San Francisco school board president calls for the renaming of schools tied to slavery

George Washington, the first American president, has his face on the quarter and the $1 bill. So many things are named after him — counties, towns, mountains, bridges, lakes and countless schools.

But the president of the San Francisco School Board, Matt Haney, wants to change the names of any of the city’s schools that are named after slave owners such as Washington and Thomas Jefferson. 

“We should rename Washington High School after San Francisco native, poet and author Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou High School. No schools named after slave owners,” Haney wrote on his Twitter account Sunday.

He said he got the idea Sunday after listening to a sermon by Rev. Amos Brown at San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church. Brown spoke of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner, and of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand when it was played during two NFL preseason games.

Haney said that after the sermon, people talked about schools in San Francisco named after Key and other figures who were slave owners.

George Washington High School, Haney said, has a mural of  Washington with slaves. Thousands of African Americans, he said, have graduated from the school.

“I'm ashamed that mural is there,” Haney said.

School names often have led to heated debate in California and across the country. 

After a young white man fueled by racial hatred shot and killed nine African-American worshipers in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last year, authorities found an online manifesto apparently written by him that talked of white supremacy and embraced Confederate symbols. 

The shooting sparked a national debate about such symbols, including  the Confederate flag, monuments and places named after Confederate leaders. 

This May, the Houston Independent School District renamed seven schools that were named after Confederate figures. 

In Long Beach, there was debate about whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Haney said that it wasn’t just schools named after slave owners that should be renamed. So should those named after anyone with a questionable human rights record.  

“We want to make sure the full diversity of our community is reflected,” Haney said.

Haney said he has receive mostly positive feedback, though some people have taken issue with his focus on George Washington.

“Please think long and hard before changing the name of George Washington High School,” Ray Shanahan wrote on Haney’s professional Facebook account. “Of course slavery was wrong and our forefathers had accepted it. But condemning our first president and father of our country is almost blasphemy. If so, every president prior to Lincoln is guilty.”

Haney said he plans to introduce the resolution before the end of the month. 

“I don't think there's going to be a massive renaming of schools, but I think there should be an opportunity for communities who want to go through the process,” he said.  

ruben.vives@latimes.com

For more Southern California news, follow @latvives on Twitter.

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