Elementary School Renaming in Works

 

Alameda resident Rasheed Shabazz has launched an effort to rename a local elementary school after his research revealed that school’s namesake held racist attitudes towards Africans and Asians.

Henry Huntly Haight served as the first California governor elected after the Civil War. In his inaugural speech on Dec. 5, 1867, Gov. Haight denounced post-Civil War Reconstruction policy as discrimination against whites. He declared “Negroes” and “Asiatic races” “inferior.” He also voiced his opposition to non-white voting rights, as well as immigration from Asia. 

After recent efforts to eliminate white supremacist monuments to the Confederacy in the South and efforts to rename schools named after slaveholders, Shabazz researched Haight and developed the idea to change Haight Elementary School’s name. 

On Dec. 5, the 150th anniversary of Haight’s speech, Shabazz emailed Haight Elementary School’s PTA and Principal Tracey Lewis. He also contacted Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Sean McPhetridge and the members of the Board of Education.

“It is unacceptable to have such a diverse public school named after an individual with such racist views,” Shabazz said. “At a school with a dynamic and significant Asian and African-American population, it’s hard to imagine how to bring into existence a school, a city, or global community where ‘everyone belongs here’ when the school’s namesake would view many of the students as inferior.”

About 40 percent of Haight’s students identify as Asian Pacific Islander and 9 percent as African American, higher than both population’s overall demographics throughout the Island City.

“We cannot develop 21st century learners and leaders when we have educational facilities named after people who represented the worst of 19th century thought,” Shabazz said. 

When Haight was in office, the Legislature refused to ratify two important amendments to the United States Constitution:  the 14th, which granted citizenship and equal protection to the formerly enslaved Africans, and the 15th, which granted the right to vote to males, regardless of race. Haight moved to Alameda after his term as governor.

Shabazz addressed the Dec. 12 school board meeting about the issue. At that same meeting, AUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge called on the school board to direct AUSD staff to create a School Renaming Committee.

“It is clear that the man was a racist and a xenophobe,” Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said. “We should not allow schools to be named after people whose views were reprehensible and counter to the foundational principles our nation, our cities and our schools are meant to represent.”

Renaming an Alameda school facility requires a petition of 100 signatures from a school’s students, parents and teachers. Principal Lewis can then convene a School Renaming Committee, with students, parents, staff, alumni and community members. 

The committee must research names and conduct a survey for a new name, or recommend maintaining the current name. If a majority of a school’s community favors a name change, the committee would submit the proposed name to McPhetridge. 

He would then place the request to the school board’s agenda. If the board approves. AUSD would announce the proposed name change at least 90 days before it would become official. 

Berkeley’s school board recently voted to rename LeConte Elementary School, after Joseph LeConte’s racist views surfaced following student protests at UC Berkeley. In 2016, the National Park Service renamed LeConte Lodge in Yosemite Valley to “Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center.” The Sierra Club, which built the lodge in 1903, requested the change because of LeConte’s racist views 

Shabazz didn’t have a specific recommendation for a new school name, and believes the school community should create one that reflects its values. He did offer one suggestion, however. 

“Since Haight was about ‘hate’, maybe it can become ‘Love Elementary,’” he said.