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7 Cleveland Schools Named After Slaveholders Set to Be Renamed

Two elementary schools named after founding fathers and slaveholders, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, are among a growing list of schools to be renamed.

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2020 inspired many symbolic changes around the country, including changing the names of schools honoring slaveholders and oppressors. Seven schools in a Cleveland, Ohio school district have made the final list for a “New Year, New Me” treatment ahead of the upcoming 2022-2023 school year.

It’s been over a year since the Cleveland City Council passed a resolution to push the Cleveland Metropolitan School District into changing the names of some of its school buildings. Last year, according to NBC News, the school district assembled a group of staff, students, family and a historian to identify problematic schools and create a renaming criteria. The district approved the criteria in September and on Dec. 14 it agreed to review the list of seven schools.

Five on the list are elementary schools Albert Bushnell Hart, Louis Agassiz, Luis Muñoz Marín, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, which are expected to have name changes in time for the 2022-2023 school year, NBC reports. Two other high schools, John Marshall and James Ford Rhodes, will follow suit at a later date.

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From NBC:

The board is expected to receive public input on the matter in January and February and approve new names for the school buildings in March, according to the documents.

“We’ve made it clear to the public that the board won’t make any changes without getting feedback from the community,” Ott said.

Although Jefferson opposed slavery as the nation’s third president, he owned about 130 slaves when he died in 1826, had children with an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings, and believed Black people to be racially inferior to white people, much like Hart, who was born in 1854. Agassiz, a biologist born in 1807, relied on scientific racism to assert that white people are biologically superior to Black people. Muñoz Marín, Puerto Rico’s first elected governor, fervently opposed and suppressed the Puerto Rican nationalist movement, according to a report from the working group. And Henry, a Founding Father, enslaved Black people throughout his adult life and said that not doing so would be a “general inconvenience.”

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According to the Hill, the group also identified another 11 schools to consider for additional review.

One Cleveland councilman, Kevin Conwell, would like to rename Patrick Henry elementary after Ohio’s first Black congresswoman, Stephanie Tubbs Jones. He was a part of the charge to change the names following the racial reckoning of 2020.

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“Children could read about her and young girls would aspire to be like her! How would you feel if your teacher told you to do a book report on Patrick Henry and you found out he was a slaveholder?” Conwell said, according to NBC.

The school district serves a diverse student community and is the second largest in the state, the Hill reports. 64 percent of its students are Black or African American and another 16 percent are Hispanic or Latino, according to CMSD’s demographics.

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“We can’t have our children going to a school named for people who owned slaves, who owned Black people. Nowhere on this planet should you go to school where you’re honoring your oppressors,” Conwell said, according to the Hill.