SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The President of the San Francisco Board of Education this week announced a controversial proposal to change the names of schools named after slave owners in the City including George Washington High School.
According to reports and social media posts, San Francisco Board of Education President Matt Haney was inspired by a service at the Third Baptist Church Sunday morning. That afternoon, Haney posted on Facebook that he thought the city should rename George Washington High School after poet Maya Angelou.
“Maya Angelou went to George Washington High School in San Francisco. But she was kicked out because she became pregnant, an experience she writes about in her autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I think we should rename the school after her,” Haney wrote.
He continued: “Maya Angelou is a legendary San Franciscan, poet, and author, and her name would replace that of a slave owner whose name is ubiquitous on schools, streets and buildings. Maya Angelou is already in the Washington HS Hall of Fame.”
Haney noted that the Washington High School community would have to support the idea for it to happened and asked for their input. In another post, he suggested changing the name of Francis Scott Key Elementary.
“How do we explain the name of her school to a third grader at Francis Scott Key Elementary? Do we tell her about Key’s role in writing the “Star Spangled Banner,” leaving out that he owned slaves and was a noted anti-abolitionist?” Haney asked in the post.
The posts received mostly positive feedback to the idea in the comments, but Haney would later share a few angry messages he received from people who disagreed with the idea, including one person who compared him to communist leaders Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
The posts and online discussion prompted several articles on the informal proposal. On Wednesday, Haney posted a video that discussed the idea, mentioning San Francisco’s history of naming schools after civil rights figures like Caesar Chavez and Harvey Milk.
“Every school deserves a name that inspires pride, that has some meaning or relevance,” said Haney in the video.
He goes on to address the naming of schools after historical figures, including many white men with problematic histories involving the owning of slaves and genocide, and his concerns over the impact those names have on a student body made up mostly of children of color.
According to reports, Haney plans to introduce a resolution to the San Francisco Board of Education this month to clarify the rules for renaming schools in the city that would allow the communities at George Washington High School, Francis Scott Key Elementary School or any other schools facing similar concerns.