They were honored with grand memorials in the nation’s capital and hailed as two of the greatest American presidents but George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are no longer welcome as names of San Francisco public schools.
The city’s board of education on Tuesday approved renaming 44 public schools, including those named after Thomas Jefferson and “Star Spangled Banner” writer Francis Scott Key, both slave owners, and Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, who critics say supported the conquest of indigenous people.
The decision comes more than two years after the board formed a panel in May 2018 to review the appropriateness of school names.
The committee drafted guidelines on who should be considered for removal. They included anyone involved in the colonization of people, slave owners, perpetuators of slavery or genocide, those who exploited workers, those who oppressed or abused women, children, queer or transgender people, those connected with human rights or environmental abuses, and those who are “known racists and/or white supremacists” or who espoused such beliefs.
Johann Neem, a history professor at Western Washington University, believes it’s important to recognize that no person, president or otherwise, is infallible.
“When we commemorate figures from our past, we do so for many reasons. Usually, it’s not because they were perfect in their time or ours, since none of us are,” Neem said. “It’s because they have made a significant contribution to our collective public good, something that earns people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln a place in our pantheon.”