Now that the San Francisco Unified School District is considering a proposal to change the names of 44 schools, there is predictable debate between defenders of historical tradition and proponents that schools today reflect today’s cultural values.
Vote: These are the 44 schools SF could rename. Which one would you change
There’s also the issue of whether a district hit by the coronavirus pandemic should invite such distractions now. Not according to Mayor London Breed, who said in a statement Friday, instead of debating what to call dozens of schools, “the district should focus on getting our children back into class.”
But for students of history and local arcana, the possible revisions offer a living glimpse of how – to quote author William Faulkner in a very different context – “the past is not dead. It is not even over. “
Consider one of the more surprising recommendations – the name of Senator Dianne Feinstein from the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School on 25th Avenue in the outer sunset.
The reason, at least officially, is not that the 87-year-old former mayor’s policies are too moderate for some of her left-wing voters. It is so that in 1984 she flipped the Confederate flag in front of City Hall the day after it was demolished by protesters.
According to articles in The Chronicle, a new Confederate flag has been found to join 17 others from American history. A day later, Black Supervisor Doris Ward complained about the return of the “banner of slavery”. Feinstein agreed to remove it and said, “I have no intention of doing anything to open a wound.”
Another local figure considered unworthy is James Lick, who is reminiscent of Noe Valley James Lick Middle School. This is because the 19th century philanthropist “funded the racist” Early Days “statue that was removed (in 2018) from the San Francisco Civic Center in response to public outcry,” according to one from the school last year Names Advisory of the district established study committee.
The problem with that? Lick died in 1876. The statue, part of the larger pioneering memorial, was commissioned from Lick’s estate more than a decade after his death.
Attempts to reach members of the advisory board and the school board on Friday were unsuccessful.
Further figures planned by the advisory board are already the subject of the latest debate.
One is John Muir – who founded the Sierra Club and has inspired generations of hikers as well as the naming of John Muir Elementary School in the lower haight. Still, Muir was “not immune to the racism practiced by many in the early conservation movement,” wrote the club’s current executive director Michael Brune earlier that year, citing excerpts from Muir’s writings.
Father Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, is another controversial topic. Critics see the founder of the Californian missions in a completely different light in the 18th century – as the “colonizer and slave owner” who suppressed the Indian tribes he met.
This is not an edge view either. Protesters demolished the Golden Gate Park statue of the man whose name lives on in June Junipero Serra Elementary School in Bernal Heights.
The advisory committee would like to further abolish this gloomy view of the European history of the state Mission High School and Presidio Middle School. The former’s linguistic roots put it on the list despite the school’s missionary district location. The latter is connected to the nearby national park, which was once an army post – and before that a Spanish fortress built by the colonizers.
Numbers from US history don’t do much better.
All eight presidents whose schools are now named after them would be deprived of their honor. Three possessed slaves. Abraham Lincoln, president during the Civil War that led to the abolition of slavery, is inadequate because, when dealing with Native Americans, “the majority of his policies have been shown to be harmful to them,” the committee noted.
The name of Herbert Hoover Middle School would be removed, and not because of the 31st President’s failure to end the Great Depression. As trade minister in previous years, he appointed committees to help lay the foundations for redlining, a loan practice that fueled the segregation of black families.
Paul Revere, most remembered by the silversmith for his “midnight ride” at the beginning of the American Revolution, was later involved in an unsuccessful military campaign against the British in Maine known to historians as the Penobscot Expedition.
According to the committee, this expedition was “directly linked to the colonization of the Penobscot” tribe of Native Americans – although the role of man from Paul Revere School was limited to leading an artillery regiment that failed against the English forces.
The historical figure who casts the longest shadow in all of this is not only unexpected but also obscure: the first Earl of Clarendon, Edward Hyde, who died in 1674.
Clarendon Alternative Elementary School is located on Clarendon Avenue, which is between Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks. This name comes from a county in South Carolina, according to the committee.
And the first count? He was “charged by the House of Commons with flagrant habeas corpus violations,” the table reads.
Final decisions on the fate of these nine names and the 35 others on the proposed list are not expected to be made by the school board until early next year. Until then, how do we view past events is likely to spark further debate. Like it has all the time.
John King is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @johnkingsfchron