As the United States comes to grips with its ugly history, more and more people are calling for an end to the ways we honor those with dark pasts. Statues and monuments of former slave owners and confederates are coming down and petitions are circulating to rename cities after better people than Christopher Columbus. There are also schools named after some very terrible people from history that need some new names.
According to Education Week, there are 135 schools across 17 states that are named after confederates, with the overwhelming majority (53) honoring Robert E. Lee. Other schools bear the names of notable, yet insidious, figures from history like Christopher Columbus. Education Week also found that 22 schools in the South are named after U.S. senators who opposed school integration in the time of Brown v. Board of Education.
And when it comes to schools, do we really want children learning about the world under the name of a guy who supported segregation, fought for the institution of slavery, or a guy whose impact could include killing off 90 percent of the native populations he encountered?
Here are just a few schools named after some not-so-nice guys — and some alternative name ideas.
Montgomery County, Alabama is home to schools like Lanier Senior High School, Lee High School, and Jefferson Davis High School, named after Sidney Lanier, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis, respectively. All three served in the Confederate army and Davis was the Confederate president. And since Montgomery was a key player in the Civil Rights movement, I think there are way better Montgomery natives to name schools after.
Like Mahala Ashley Dickerson, who was the first Black woman attorney in Alabama. If Dickerson is too much of a mouthful, why not Mahala High School? Or Inez Baskin, a journalist who covered, and supported, the Civil Rights movement and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Or, more recently, what about Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winning actress famous for her roles in Hidden Figures and The Shape of Water?
Vernon Parish, Louisiana, is home to one school named after Leonidas Polk and four schools named after Robert E. Lee. Ugh. How about renaming one after Jewel Prestage, the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in political science in the U.S.? Or John James Herrera, a leader in the Chicano movement?
Even if you have to get creative with it, Virginia schools like Robert E. Lee High School could rename themselves to Bruce Banner High School, aka The Hulk, who happens to be from Virginia. Or what about Quantico character Alex Parrish, played by Priyanka Chopra? Chopra even became the first South Asian to lead an American network drama series playing the role, so it’s still progress.
Either way, I think I’d rather have a school named after a fictional detective on my resume than one named after a dude who fought for slavery. It’s not even a fair fight.
Header Image by Gratisography via Pexels
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Evi Arthur is a graduate of Roosevelt University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies and a minor in women’s and gender studies. The former editor-in-chief of her university paper, Evi has previously interned at Chicago Agent Magazine and St. Louis Magazine. A St. Louis native (and lover of St. Louis-style pizza), she plans to eventually return to school and earn a Master's degree in investigative reporting. You can follow her at @EviArthur on Instagram and Twitter.