CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) is moving ahead with a formal review of the names of five schools whose namesakes have been historically tied to slavery, systemic racism or oppression. By advancing a resolution earlier this week, the CSMD Board of Education has greenlit a public engagement process that will be used to recommend new names of the five schools.
The five schools that could be subject to a name change include Albert Bushnell Hart PreK-8 School; Louis Agassiz Pre-K-8 School; Luis Munoz Marin Pre-K-8 School; Patrick Henry Pre-K-8 School and Thomas Jefferson Pre-K-12 International Newcomers Academy.
Earlier this year, a CMSD working group established a set of guidelines regarding school names, including a requirement that the board will “not consider the names of people who have a documented history of enslaving other humans, or have actively [participated] in the institution of slavery, systemic racism and the oppression of people of color, women, other minority groups, or people who have been a member of a supremacist organization.
Cleveland City Councilmen Kevin Conwell (Ward 9) and Brian Mooney (Ward 11) raised issue with the names of the schools in their wards last summer during the months of racial tension and reckoning following the death of George Floyd. At that point, CMSD had already begun to explore a possible name change for the schools.
Conwell, whose ward includes Patrick Henry School, was pleased that the district is moving forward with plans to possibly rename the school.
“This school is named after a slaveholder, Patrick Henry,” Conwell said. “I know the children in my community and African Americans should not go to a school that’s named after a slaveholder that had my ancestors and their ancestors in slavery. It’s offensive to the African American community, just like the Indians changed their name from the Indians to the Guardians because it was offensive to Native Americans.”
Considered one of the Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry is most famously known as a fierce supporter of American independence, culminating in his famous quote, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” before the Second Virginia Convention in 1775.
Henry’s involvement in slavery has often been a large blemish on his legacy. Although Henry believed slavery was wrong, he offered no plan for abolition. He was successful in barring the import of slaves into Virginia in 1778 but he owned slaves throughout much of his life. He had more than 60 slaves prior to his death.
“We cannot name our schools after any former slaveholders. That’s the bottom line,” Conwell said.
Among those whose names could be changed is Louis Agassiz, the Swiss-American biologist, geologist and scientist who is known for being a scholar of Earth’s natural history. Although his findings and processes earned him acclaim, his legacy has also been mired by his views on minorities, particularly Black people. Detractors point to the "scientific racism" prevalent in his work.
In a statement, CMSD officials said the board’s passage of the resolution on Tuesday night will allow the community engagement process of the name change to begin.
“This approval of further discussion is another step in a comprehensive District review. It allows the board and district to seek community feedback and input that will ultimately inform final recommendations back to the board,” the statement read. “We expect to begin community engagement in January.”
Conwell said he is looking forward to engaging with the community and that he can think of at least one name worthy of consideration.
“We’ll have a town hall meeting with my residents, my bosses, to change the name. I hope it’s changed to Stephanie Tubbs Jones Leadership Academy,” Conwell said. “This way the children see success every single day. That success is Stephanie Tubbs Jones. They need to know about the history of this great African American female and not a former slaveholder, Patrick Henry.”