A San Francisco district is planning to rename a school named after Abraham Lincoln because the former president did not demonstrate that ‘black lives mattered to him’.
The president, who is often held up as an American hero for abolishing slavery, is just one of 44 historical figures soon to have their names scratched off schools within the San Francisco Unified School District.
Other names include George Washington, Herbert Hoover and Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose name will be stripped from the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School for allowing the Confederate flag to fly outside City Hall back in 1984 when she was mayor.
The renaming of the schools comes as part of a nationwide reckoning around racial justice that has seen Confederate flags banned, military bases renamed and statues toppled of racist and Confederate figures across America in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
A San Francisco district is planning to rename a school named after Abraham Lincoln because of his treatment of Native Americans. Pictured Abraham Lincoln High School
The district’s renaming committee decided Lincoln is not worthy of keeping his name on Abraham Lincoln High School because ‘the majority of his policies proved to be detrimental to [Native Americans].’
‘Abraham Lincoln is not seen as much of a hero at all among many American Indian Nations and Native peoples of the United States, as the majority of his policies proved to be detrimental to them,’ the committee meeting notes state.
Under his watch, Indigenous peoples had much of their land taken away from them.
In 1862, the Homestead Act, where citizens could claim ownership 160 acres of land, and the Pacific Railway Act, which gave railroad companies permission to build a transcontinental railroad through America ‘led to the significant loss of land and natural resources, as well as the loss of lifestyle and culture, for many Indigneous peoples’, the committee said.
In 1864, the Lincoln administration then oversaw the deportation of the Navajo tribe from their land in what is now Arizona.
The tribe was forced to march a brutal 450 mile journey to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
The president, who is often held up as an American hero for abolishing slavery, is just one of 44 historical figures soon to have their names scratched off schools within the San Francisco Unified School District
Jeremiah Jeffries, the man in charge of school renaming, whose Nation of Islam parents inspired him
Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee and a first grade teacher
The man behind the renaming of 44 of San Francisco’s schools is a first grade teacher who was influenced by his parents – both prominent members of the Nation of Islam – who set up their own Islamic school.
Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee, revealed in an interview his mother told him ‘There’s nothing mysterious about progression. It’s working instead of wishing.’
She and her husband set up the Sister Clara Muhammad School that serve a predominately African-American Muslim population.
The Nation of Islam, which is defined as an organized hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay teachings and rhetoric of black superiority over whites.
Jeffries also led San Francisco’s largest school boycott when he encouraged 200 families to send their children to protest the closure of a school, rather then to lessons in 2006.
In 1999, Jeffries hit headlines nationwide when he held a protest against teachers spending their own money on school supplies.
The San Francisco School District increased the school supply budget for the first time in decades as a result.
He has also carved out a reputation as a power-broker for the district’s Board of Education, using his influence to get at least four candidates – teaching professionals – appointed.
Jeffries grew up in Philadelphia as one of seven children.
At the age of 12, after his sister was shot dead, Jeffries had his first taste of working in education as a janitor at a childcare center.
He later went to the University of Virginia, where he first got involved in racial justice activism with the Black Student Alliance including getting the first black woman into student office.
When he moved to San Francisco he cofounded Teachers 4 Change and, later, Teachers 4 Social Justice activism groups alongside Mark Sanchez – who is also on the renaming committee.
Teachers 4 Social Justice was set up to ‘help teachers build their practice and become better teachers’, holding annual conferences and social justice workshops each year and pushing for education policy reforms.
Currently, he is overseeing the name change for 44 of the district’s schools after the renaming committee ruled the namesakes are inappropriate or racist.
The walk became know as the ‘Long Walk of the Navajo’, with at least 200 dying on route and over 2,000 dying during conflict before a treaty was signed in 1868 granting the Navajo permission to set up a reservation.
Lincoln was also behind the largest mass hanging in US history, where 38 Dakota men were condemned to death in Minnesota in 1862 for their part in the Dakota War.
He did, however, commute the sentences of 264 others, preventing them meeting the same fate.
Other reasons for the president’s ousting include ‘rampant corruption in the Indian Office, the precursor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, continued unabated throughout Lincoln’s term and well beyond’ where government-appointed Indian agents stole resources meant for tribes.
‘The history of Lincoln and Native Americans is complicated, not nearly as well known as that of the Civil War and slavery,’ Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee and a first grade teacher, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
‘Lincoln, like the presidents before him and most after, did not show through policy or rhetoric that black lives ever mattered to them outside of human capital and as casualties of wealth building.’
Jeffries said the committee decided on the renaming once they discussed Lincoln’s treatment of Native Americans, and that the positive parts of his record cannot discount the negatives.
‘The discussion for Lincoln centered around his treatment of First Nation peoples, because that was offered first,’ he said.
‘Once he met criteria in that way, we did not belabor the point.’
The move has become the source of some debate, however, as – to many – Lincoln is one of the greatest presidents America has seen with his leadership during the Civil War and abolition of slavery a critical and progressive moment in the move toward racial equality across the nation.
In 1854 in Peoria, Illinois, he said: ‘My ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.’
In 1863, he then issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforward shall be free.’
Yet, he also made a number of racist comments, such as arguing that there is a physical difference between black and white races and that he favored the ‘superior’ position assigned to the white race in 1858.
‘There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality,’ Lincoln is quoted as saying.
Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and director of the Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, said he disagrees with the renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School.
‘He saved the country from dividing and ruin,’ he told the San Francisco Chronicle.
‘He should be honored for it.’
Measuring the worth of historical figures by modern standards is problematic, he said.
‘Nobody is going to pass 21st century mores if you’re looking at the 18th and 19th centuries,’ he said.
Senator Diane Feinstein (left) will have her name removed from Dianne Feinstein Elementary (right) because she allowed the Confederate flag to fly in front of San Francisco City Hall in the 1980s
Roosevelt Middle School (left) faces a rebranding over President Theodore Roosevelt’s (right) opposition of civil rights and black suffrage for black people
Labor leader César Chávez (above) can keep his name on César Chávez Elementary despite his derogatory comments about undocumented immigrants
ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S RACIAL LEGACY
- Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky
- He was president from 1861-65
- He was shot dead in April 1865 in DC
In 1854 in Peoria, Illinois, he declared his opposition to slavery, saying: ‘My ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.’
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the country moved into the third year of the Civil War.
Lincoln’s proclamation had declared ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforward shall be free.’
In 1852 Lincoln said he rejected ‘both extremes’ on the slavery debate.
Lincoln said in 1858 he was against racial equality: ‘There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.’
In 1862 Lincoln told black leaders during a visit to the White House that they were to blame for the Civil War, saying: ‘But for your presence amongst us, there would be no war.’
Lincoln told journalist Horace Greeley his priority was saving the union, saying: ‘If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.’
Frederick Douglass in 1876 said Lincoln was ‘preeminently the white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men’. Douglass continued: ‘He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.’
All eight presidents whose names currently adorn schools in the district will soon be erased.
The decision to remove many of these is less controversial than Lincoln’s, however.
Herbert Hoover Middle School is to be renamed over the namesake’s role in redlining – the segregation of black families – when he was secretary of commerce.
And Roosevelt Middle School faces a rebranding over President Theodore Roosevelt’s opposition of civil rights and black suffrage for black people.
Modern figures haven’t been spared from the cut either.
Feinstein, who was Mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988 and has since served as a Democrat California Senator since 1992, will have her name removed from Dianne Feinstein Elementary because she allowed the Confederate flag to fly in front of San Francisco City Hall.
During her time as mayor, she also oversaw the eviction of the Filipino neighborhood Manilatown and ‘allowed police dogs to attack Filipino veteran elders’, the committee ruled.
Jeffries said Feinstein has never made amends for these failings.
‘On a local level Dianne Feinstein chose to fly a flag that is the iconography of domestic terrorism, racism, white avarice and inhumanity towards black and indigenous people at the City Hall,’ Jeffries said.
‘She is one of the few living examples on our list, so she still has time to dedicate the rest of her life to the upliftment of black, First Nations and other people of color. She hasn’t thus far, so her apology simply wasn’t convincing.’
Meanwhile, the committee ruled that legendary labor leader, community organizer, and Latino American civil rights activist César Chávez can keep his name on César Chávez Elementary school.
Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 which then merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers.
The union helped improve working conditions and pay for Latino farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.
However, Chávez also made repeated derogatory comments about undocumented immigrants and called for their deportation.
How Lincoln had 38 Sioux fighters hanged and saved 265 others
In 1862, the Sioux went to war because they believed their land and homes were being stolen by white settlers in Minnesota, and were aggrieved by late payments from the government.
The uprising, known as the Dakota War, lasted six weeks and killed hundreds of soldiers, settlers and Native Americans before the Sioux surrendered to Lincoln’s forces.
In the aftermath, a military commission sentenced 303 Sioux people to death after trials in English with no defense attorneys which lasted only three to five minutes and which the Sioux people did not understand.
Lincoln reviewed ‘every one of these capital cases’, his biographer Harold Holzer says, and said there was evidence 39 were guilty of murder or rape and ordered their execution.
The remaining 264 sentences were commuted, while one of the 39 condemned men was later reprieved.
The other 38 were hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in US history – just days before the Emancipation Proclamation.
The remaining Dakota people were driven out of Minnesota after the war. Most ended up in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Canada.
He encouraged members of his union to join what he called ‘wet lines’ to stop undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona.
He later changed stance and pledged that United Farm Workers would support legalization for undocumented ‘brothers and sisters’.
Meanwhile, Thomas Edison will be scratched off Thomas Edison Charter Academy due to his ‘fondness for electrocuting animals’.
In total, the committee has decided to rename a third of the district’s 125 schools.
The new names have not yet been revealed and any final decision on renaming – and the choice of names – will have to be voted upon and approved by school boards.
The committee is next expected to meet in early January.
As well as the controversy surrounding some of the historical figures, the district has also faced a backlash over its timing when teachers, students and parents are grappling with the pandemic and a switch to virtual learning.
Back in October, San Francisco Mayor London Breed slammed the district for focusing on school names when it ‘should be focused on getting our kids back in the classroom.’
‘In the midst of this once-in-a-century challenge, to hear that the district is focusing energy and resources on renaming schools – schools that they haven’t even opened – is offensive,’ Breed said.
The renaming committee was set up in 2018 by the Board of Education to consider whether the school names were appropriate and to recommend action.
Also on the renaming committee is Board President Mark Sanchez who previously set up teachers’ activist group Teachers 4 Change with Jeffries.