SF Official: Rename ‘George Washington’ High School over Slavery

George Washington High School (Dixon Wang / Facebook)
Dixon Wang / Facebook

The head of San Francisco’s school board, who is running for reelection this November, wants to remove the names of slaveholders — including America’s first president, George Washington — from local public schools due to their “problematic” histories.

The change would affect George Washington High School, which is located in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

“Most of our schools are going to be fine with the names that they have but there are a handful of schools where at least the question should be brought up,” said school board president Matt Haney, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The change would affect George Washington High School, which is located in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

“I don’t think the goal is to condemn people who died a long time ago,” Haney explained. “The question is whether there might be a more appropriate, meaningful name.”

He is reportedly expected to introduce a resolution to that effect as early as next week.

Last Sunday, Haney posted a message to Facebook proposing to rename George Washington High School after one of its most famous alumni, the late African-American poet Maya Angelou.

He explained: “Maya Angelou is a legendary San Franciscan, poet, and author, and her name would replace that of a slaveowner whose name is ubiquitous on schools, streets and buildings. Maya Angelou is already in the Washington HS Hall of Fame.”  

In a video message posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Haney said, “Many school names that were named a long time ago, in some cases 100 years ago, that were named after someone who was important politically, militarily at that time. Someone in business, who had a lot of money and was able to donate.” Haney added, “Many of these people are white men,” adding “we now have a school district that is overwhelmingly children of color, half female.”

According to publicly available data, Asian-Americans comprise more than two-thirds of the 2,000 students at George Washington High School today. The school is 8% white and 5% black.

Haney told the Examiner he hopes the school district can have more schools named after people of color, women, and LGBT figures.

The suggestion to rename high schools continues a recent trend that began on college campuses. Last March, students at Stanford University, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, attempted to scrub names and symbols that honor people who are supposedly connected to slavery and colonialism from the college campus.

On Friday, Haney posted a lengthy list of his accomplishments on Facebook, preceded by a quick blurb about the “school names conversation.” Some of his accolades include being the “Co-author of our district’s first ‘African American Achievement and Leadership’ policy,” and securing “funding and a school site for the nation’s first LGBT Studies class at Asawa School of the Arts.”

On Thursday, he had complained on Facebook that Fox News host “Bill O’Reilly highlighted me on his show last night, showed my photo, and told his viewers that I was ‘attacking George Washington.'” Haney said he has received a slew of “hate mail, messages and death threats since then–angry, racist, and threatening.”

Haney added that “Bill O’Reilly pulled a quote out of context and said that I thought we should ‘scrub Washington’s name off the school’ because I did not think he was ‘relevant, meaningful or inspired pride.’ I did not say that:”

What I said is that not all of our schools currently have names that inspire pride, are relevant, or are meaningful to the school community–it is up to the George Washington community to decide if they feel that their school name does or does not. Same with our schools named after Grover Cleveland, William Mckinley and Francis Scott Key, and any others, many of which have generic names that aren’t even named after people.

Noting that the decision will be up to the school community, Haney said “I personally thought that Maya Angelou would be a candidate to be honored with a school name, not with the goal of attacking George Washington, or discounting his contributions. Maya Angelou is brilliant, she attended the school, and represents the type of achievement that I think we should hold up for our kids here in San Francisco.”

He concluded: “There are more of us, we are not afraid, and we will win.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz