SAN LEANDRO (KPIX) — As America re-examines a history of racial injustice, one school in San Leandro recently decided it will be changing its name to something that is a better fit for its diverse student body.
All of the elementary schools in the San Leandro Unified School District are named after past presidents, but Woodrow Wilson Elementary is a bit of a disconnect.READ MORE: Summer Departs With Sweltering Temperatures; Smoky Skies Draped Over East Bay
“It’s difficult to support the name of a school that would not be supporting the current community that’s reflected at Wilson Elementary,” said District Director of Community Engagement Keziah Moss.
Elected in 1912 as America’s 28th president, Wilson headed up Princeton University, guided the nation through WWI and won the Nobel Peace Prize for creating the League of Nations.
But he was also an ardent white supremacist, justifying the Ku Klux Klan and writing about the intellectual inferiority of people of color, saying Black people were denied the vote not because their skin was dark, but because “their minds were dark.”
That kind of sentiment doesn’t resonate well at one of the most racially diverse schools in the Bay Area.
“It’s not cool to have someone’s name on this school if he thinks like this,” said San Leandro resident Abdul Aljahmi.
“You have a different way of thinking,” said school parent Kenneth Johnson. “That may have been the way then, it is absolutely not now. So I am in agreement with the name change.”
“You know, we’re still confused on who even thought that was a good idea,” said another parent.READ MORE: Scaled-Down Dreamforce Marks Major Step In San Francisco's COVID Economic Rebound
Woodrow Wilson’s name has already been removed from a school in Richmond, replaced by that of Michelle Obama. And even Princeton University has renamed several buildings on campus.
The original proposal to change the school’s was submitted to the district in July 2020. The San Leandro Unified School District announced last February that it would a public forum in March to consider the proposal.
During the pandemic shutdown, teachers in San Leandro conducted a student project to study the renaming process.
“We felt that that name just did not fit who we wanted to be as a community,” said teacher Katy Felsinger.
After an extensive community engagement effort, the school board agreed and voted two weeks ago to change the name. Now the focus turns to finding a new one.
“We’re trying to get everyone involved, because this is a really big deal for San Leandro,” said Moss. “This is a really big deal for our school district and it’s a big deal for our community.”
The district said they have set no deadline for picking a new name, but they would like to have it in place when the new school year starts next fall.
Of course not everyone agrees with the proposal. Some are asking why those in favor have picked this moment to rewrite history.MORE NEWS: KPIX Original Report: SF Mission Bay Sidewalks Sinking But City Won't Fix 'Private Property'
But Woodrow Wilson himself answered that question more than a hundred years ago, when he announced, “We stand in the presence of an awakened nation. Plainly, it is a new age.”