CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is preparing to rename seven schools currently named for slaveholders and other historical figures over concerns of racially problematic pasts.
New names for five elementary buildings are expected to be in place for the 2022-2023 school year, after community meetings in January and February 2022 in which school administrators intend to get feedback from parents, students and others. The decisions are contingent upon school board approval.
The elementary schools to be renamed are:
*Albert Bushnell Hart (Broadway-Slavic Village)
*Louis Agassiz (West Boulevard)
*Luis Muñoz Marín (Tremont)
*Patrick Henry (Glenville)
*Thomas Jefferson PreK-12 International Newcomers Academy (Stockyards)
Two additional high schools are expected be renamed sometime in the future, but CMSD officials who spoke to cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer weren’t yet able to provide a timeline. They are John Marshall, in the Jefferson neighborhood, and James Ford Rhodes, in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood.
CMSD kicked off the renaming process earlier this year as part of the national reckoning over racial injustice sparked by the 2020 death of George Floyd. School officials were also spurred by two resolutions passed by Cleveland City Council in 2020 urging CMSD to change the names. The effort was spearheaded by Councilman Kevin Conwell, whose ward includes Patrick Henry, and backed by Councilman Brian Mooney, whose ward includes Louis Agassiz.
CMSD’s school board in July assembled working groups of staff, students and family members to determine new school naming criteria and identify existing schools named after figures who failed to live up to those standards, according to Michael Houser, policy and labor liaison, and Trent Mosley, chief strategy implementation officer.
CMSD also recruited a historian to provide historical backgrounds about each person for which a school is named.
The groups found seven schools with names that ought to be changed based on the new naming criteria.
The groups identified 11 other schools for “possible additional review,” meaning the groups were torn on whether there was enough evidence in the person’s past that conflicted with the naming criteria.
The new criteria excludes schools from being named after people “who have a documented history of enslaving other humans, or have actively participated in the institution of slavery, systemic racism, the oppression … of people of color, women or other minority groups, or who have been a member of a supremist organization.”
Oppression is defined as “the inequitable use of authority, law, or physical force to prevent others from being free or equal.”
The school board in September approved the new naming criteria, and on Dec. 14 adopted the working group’s recommendations for schools that ought to be renamed.
Conwell was elated when he spoke to cleveland.com after the December vote.
“We can’t have our children going to a school named for people who owned slaves, who owned Black people,” Conwell said. “Nowhere on this planet should you go to school where you’re honoring your oppressors.”
Conwell hopes Patrick Henry will be renamed for Ohio’s first Black congresswoman and Glenville native Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. City Council’s resolution for Louis Agassiz urged the district to rename that school for Louis Stokes, a civil rights pioneer who was Ohio’s first Black congressman.
Of Henry, born 1736, council’s resolution notes his role as a slave-holding founding father, and goes on to point out that upon his death, “Henry left his estates and his 67 slaves to be divided between his wife and his six sons; despite his various comments opposing the institution of slavery, Henry did not free any slaves.”
Of Agassiz, a Swiss biologist born in 1807, council’s resolution states that “in the last two centuries, Agassiz’s reputation has been tarnished and legacy called into question because of, among other things, his belief in scientific racism: the pseudoscientific belief that empirical evidence exists to support or justify racism, racial inferiority or racial superiority.”
According to the historian’s analysis for CMSD, Jefferson, born in 1743, opposed slavery as a founding father, but he did so “while owning over 600 enslaved people throughout his life. He believed that Blacks were racially inferior to whites and advocated that emancipated Blacks should be deported to Africa or the West Indies.”
He also fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings, the enslaved half-sister of his wife. “Jefferson continued to hold his children with Hemings in bondage. Although historians are conflicted over the nature of Jefferson and Hemings’ relationship, as an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings had no legal rights.”
Hart, born in 1854, was among America’s first generation of professionally trained historians and grew up in Cleveland, according to the analysis. As a faculty member at Harvard University, Hart supported Black scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. But, among other problematic stances, Hart wrote this in response to a Harvard policy that banned Black students from dorms: “I have been convinced for years … that the Negro race, as a race, is inferior to the white, and that a mixture of the races in the South or elsewhere would mean a decline in civilization.”
Muñoz Marín, born in 1898, was Puerto Rico’s first elected governor and President John F. Kennedy’s advisor on Latin America. According to the analysis, he “vigorously suppressed the Puerto Rican nationalist movement and made it a crime to display the Puerto Rican flag, sing the national anthem, or advocate for independence in any way. Muñoz Marín claimed to support expanding Puerto Rico’s self-sufficiency, but his policies made Puerto Rico more dependent on the United States, including an increased emphasis on teaching English in schools rather than Spanish.”