Should Oakland Rename Schools with Racist Origins?

The controversies of Charlottesville and confederate monuments are coming home to Oakland, raised by the All City Council, and voiced by our new student director at the OUSD Board meeting.  Looking at some of our school names, and the historic figures that inspired them—should we change them?  Two schools in particular were identified—though I bet if we dug deeper there would be more candidates.

So, let’s take a look.

Theodore (“the only good Indian is a dead Indian”) Roosevelt Middle School

Roosevelt Middle school, formerly Roosevelt High, named for Theodore Roosevelt.

And what does history say about him?  From PBS’s The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

 The election of Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 heralded one of the first Presidential administrations openly opposed to civil rights and suffrage for blacks. Roosevelt is remembered for inviting the black leader and entrepreneur, Booker T. Washington, to the White House for dinner, the first instance of such an invitation for a black person. Southern Democrats were offended, and were vocal in their disapproval. Though Washington’s visit was distinctive in its novelty, Roosevelt invited Washington not to improve the situation of blacks, but because they agreed that blacks should not strive for political and social equality…. President Roosevelt believed blacks were intellectually inferior, and began to decrease the number of federal appointments to blacks and promised Southerners that he would appoint local federal officials that would not disrupt the accord between north and south.

And even worse, from Indian country today

When Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901, he already had a long legacy of animosity toward American Indians. “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are,” Roosevelt said during a January 1886 speech in New York. “And I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Roosevelt’s seven and a half years in office were marked by his support of the Indian allotment system, the removal of Indians from their lands and the destruction of their culture. Although he earned a reputation as a conservationist—placing more than 230 million acres of land under public protection—Roosevelt systematically marginalized Indians, uprooting them from their homelands to create national parks and monuments, speaking publicly about his plans to assimilate them and using them as spectacles to build his political empire.

That says about enough for me.

Herbert (the Lily White Policy) Hoover

How about Hoover Elementary, here’s some info from the DailyKos

 W.E.B. DuBois, the founder of the NAACP, saw Hoover as a “sinister enemy of the black race.”…

Up until Herbert Hoover, a majority of African-Americans had supported the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln. Hoover changed all that with his Lily White Policy, a plan devised to get African-Americans out of the Republican Party and bring in the white Southerners. He’s responsible for developing the Southern strategy that Nixon, Reagan and Bush would later embrace. He turned the party of big business into the white man’s party.

Herbert Hoover was a white supremacist. He believed blacks were inherently inferior and wanted to get rid of any blacks from positions of authority and power in the Republican Party. Hoover’s racism is manifest in his response to the great Mississippi Flood of 1927, his Supreme Court picks, and his use of patronage to strip blacks of power. He even fought against anti-lynching laws…

He also indiscriminately deported Mexicans and American Citizens with Mexican heritage, again from the DailyKos

 It was Hoover who deported over two million people, many of which were legal American citizens. Anyone with a Mexican-sounding name had their property confiscated and were shipped to Mexico City.

This doesn’t seem like a tough call either.

Better (S)heroes Needed

There is a Board policy on naming of schools, and we should invoke it.

Like most of what I hear from the student directors, their argument makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it would probably make sense to those school leaders, from what I know of them.

And I get that these figures were “products of their times” but John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Dubois and others grew in those times too, and rose above the racism that these two men embraced and used.  And they ain’t no heroes to me and shouldn’t be figures we celebrate to the very children they worked against.

What do you think?

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