Committee Chooses ‘Love’ Essay Contest Winners

Part Two
This past spring, the Haight Renaming Committee invited Alameda Unified School District students to write essays and letters sharing their thoughts about renaming Haight Elementary School. “Should Haight School be renamed? Why or why not?” For the youngest winners, see part one of this story in last week’s edition. All writers are students at Lincoln Middle School unless otherwise noted.

Sixth to eighth grades
First place: “Gov. Haight’s beliefs devalue, alienate me.” Throughout all the years I attended Henry Haight Elementary, I never learned much about Gov. Henry Huntly Haight to know he had a hateful legacy. When a school is named after a person, I always assume the individual was an influential leader who embodied the characteristics and values of justice, freedom and equality. Therefore, I never gave much thought about Haight. 

However, in January 2018, many in the community signed a petition to change the name of the elementary school. Haight’s negative ideologies do not align with the current- day school system’s principles and further do not represent the community of my elementary school.

In schools in America today, especially in Alameda, it is common to have students from different cultures, races and backgrounds in the same classroom. In fact, according to the Great Schools website, 39 percent of Henry Haight Elementary students are Asian, 11 percent are Black, and 11 percent are mixed; that alone accounts for more than 50 percent of the population at the school. Research has proven that diversity in a classroom strengthens communication skills, enables collaboration and strong relationships among peers and promotes tolerance.

Haight does not represent the idea of unity. In his Dec. 5, 1867, inaugural speech, he stated, “It is urged that this class of immigration should be permitted upon philanthropic grounds; but history and experience show that it is not the dictate of true philanthropy, or of sound policy, to locate together in one community races so radically dissimilar as the Caucasian and African or Mongolian. The attempt to mix these races is in contravention of natural laws. For mutual good, they should be allowed to remain separated in location.” Haight meant that races should not socialize or mingle with one another. Instead, he would rather have all races separated from one another. His stance on segregation is a direct contradiction of our school system’s motto, “Everyone Belongs Here.”

Haight disempowered minorities and strongly believed in maintaining inequalities for those who were dissimilar or not Caucasian. In Haight’s inaugural speech, he dedicates a large portion of his speech speaking out against Congress’ Reconstruction plan, whose main goal was to remedy the inequalities of slavery and its political, social and economic heritage.  

In an Alameda Sun article, (“Who was Haight?” Feb. 8, 2018), Rasheed Shabazz writes, “He claimed Congress’s policies put white Americans ‘under the heel of negroes’ and warned indiscriminate suffrage would allow Chinese to vote in California.” He often labeled the African and Asian American races as “inferior,” and spent the majority of his professional and political careers trying to stop non-whites from voting and immigrating.

Henry Haight Elementary is a place where I grew as an individual; it represents a place of unity and gave me a strong sense of community. Now learning that my elementary school is named after Haight, it makes it difficult not to voice my opinion in support of renaming the school. 

It makes me sad that I went to a school named after an individual who not only would not want me to attend, but actually dedicated his career ensuring that I wouldn’t have any rights or power to speak. It is bittersweet reflecting on a place where I have such fond memories, but Haight’s beliefs devalue and alienate me as a person and those in my community.

I strongly believe in the motto “Everyone Belongs Here” and thus renaming the school is an important step toward showing that as Alamedans, we do not share the same philosophy as Haight.
— Mya Nguyen, Wood Middle School

Second place: “Ridding the Hate From Haight” Imagine walking into elementary school for the first time. You are excited to finally start a new year when you hear someone say, “Welcome to Hate Elementary School!” That’s what students of Haight Elementary school hear every year. 
Besides the name that most certainly causes confusion for younger kids who haven’t quite pieced out the meaning of homophone, Henry Haight was quite a hateful man. Haight might have gone down in history as one of the great governors of California, but he’s not all flowers and sunshine. Haight can be recognized as a sexist and racist man who didn’t approve of many people.

The changing of Haight school’s name has been in avid discussion since Rasheed Shabazz brought the topic to light. Haight was a man who believed that Asians, females and African Americans didn’t have the right to vote. This was conveyed in his December 1867 inaugural address. Though this might not have been such a big deal back then, through today’s lens, his ideas can be seen as blatantly racist and sexist. The school does not support the ideas that Haight preached, and the students at the school might feel uncomfortable since most students come from many different ethnic backgrounds. The views that Haight held may affect kids negatively.

The changing of Haight school’s name is much like the renaming of San Francisco’s Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way. The street was named after James Phelan, whose son was against immigrants coming to California, according to NBC Bay Area. Many view Kahlo as one of Mexico’s great artists. Haight’s ideas are no longer accepted and considered offensive to many. Today we are changing how we see the world and rethinking the views and ideas of people before us. It’s important to help our kids understand why some ideas brought up are outdated, and renaming Haight school is a big step in the correct direction.
— Corinna Chin

Third Place: “Shall We Favor Equality or Fall Victim to Haight?” Can the active commemoration of a racist, derogatory political figure by the title of a diversely populated elementary school be pacified by the phrase “it’s just a name?” Can we attempt to foster an environment where equity and coexistence are key while shrouding from our sight the placards that we lack the courage to confront? The renaming of Haight Elementary is a vital decision that will simultaneously initiate the dismantling of the blockades of hypocrisy and allow further endeavors towards social reform throughout this vibrant, beauteous island.

Initially, a glimpse of the past exploits of Henry Haight suffices to justify Haight’s removal from educational communities in all respects. Grotesquely derogatory statements can be unearthed throughout Haight’s 1867 inaugural address, including his fervent claim that Congress’s post-Civil War reconstruction efforts were “the subjection of the white population of the Southern States… to the domination of a mass of ignorant negroes just freed from slavery.” Such blatant discrimination, vicious, lacking claims and scarcity of governmental knowledge accurately characterize Haight, as do his intentions to counter African- and Asian-American suffrage. Concisely, an individual capable of drafting such loathsome, pernicious statements is not fit to represent any institution, far less an educational facility brimming with impressionable young minds.

The debacle plaguing our district is not an isolated occurrence. While we tussle with regressive governmental figures, the school district of Austin, Tex., according to news reports, has equally embarked upon a journey to end remebering Confederate figures synonymous to the state ensconcing them. Changing Lanier High School to Juan Navarro High, or removing Fillmore to favor Sarah Beth Lively, Austin schools aid through this renaming program the Confederate removal and wider quest for racial equity flourishing throughout America. If administrative approval could be gained, the renaming of Haight Elementary could potentially precede an endeavor to defy moral corruption in government, and potentially contribute to progress on a global scale.

While opposers may fear that renaming Haight Elementary may prove laborious or costly, these concerns bloat the negligible cost of replacing a heading on official forms, a placard and the occasional website title, and ignore the incomparable cost of racism and denial. With finality, a reputable, diverse Alameda elementary school cannot remain a mausoleum for past racist figures. To remove Haight from our school district is to confirm respect and solidarity for minority groups and rebuke the blindly celebrated culture of bigotry.
— Paul Gontard

Honorable mention: “Naming school ‘Love’ won’t make school lovely.” Alameda should not change the original name of Haight school to Love Elementary School, because the school was originally named after Henry Huntly Haight, California’s 10th governor. It is important to leave the name of Henry Haight as one of Alameda’s schools because it lets us remember Henry Haight. It takes a lot of work to change the school name on maps and other resources, but it has already sunken in as that school on Santa Clara Avenue.

Even if we do change Haight to Love Elementary, it will always be referred as Henry Haight. Since it was built in 1976, in honor of him despite his racist actions on people of different race than him.
As stated in the text, “Renaming Haight,” just because we name one of our Alameda schools after him, doesn’t necessarily mean that we honor him. Just because we remember Haight’s name does not mean that we honor him, or remember him as an admirable figure.

Also as it said in the same text, “changing the name to Love Elementary will spread more love, and show that Alameda is a loving community.” Just because you change a school name doesn’t mean it will become a better community. For example, you can’t take a stubborn little girl and change her name to Grace, and make her be graceful.
— Ashley Kim