School Board Votes to Strip Racist Presidents’ Names from Schools

The Corvallis School Board approved 6-1 a resolution taking three presidents’ names off local elementary schools. The move adds to a nationwide wave of institutional reform following George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, which has touched off months of protests and riots. 

School Board Member Jay Conroy was the lone holdout against approving the resolution. He called for more time to consider community input as well as the history behind how the schools were initially named. A motion by Conroy to table the matter until the Sept. 10 meeting was defeated. 

“Many buildings in the Corvallis School District are named for U.S. Presidents, some of whom held views that are corrosive to the values of district and are not appropriate for celebration on facilities for the education of children,” a draft of the school board resolution states. “Of particular note are Woodrow Wilson, who was an avowed racist and segregationist; Herbert Hoover, who was openly racist; and Thomas Jefferson, who was a committed slave owner and sired children with one of his female slaves.” 

An action report regarding the resolution, which had its first read during a meeting this past week, says it seeks to quickly address the “injury of the naming of Corvallis School District buildings for the aforementioned presidents,” and establish a process to review the names of the remaining schools for replacement if deemed necessary. 

Jefferson owned slaves and supported the institution of slavery, Wilson left behind a legacy of institutional segregation and racism, as well as notably having screened the landmark white supremacist film “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House, and Hoover acted against Black Republicans to aid white Democrats in the South. He also opposed immigration to the U.S. 

Members of the public were allowed to comment during Thursday’s remote meeting. The majority of comments, including those from students and school staff, were in support renaming the buildings. Wilson Elementary School Principal Eric Beasley was among those who supported the resolution. He called for temporarily renaming the school for its Wildcat mascot. 

The school board resolution removes the original names, and interim designations will be assigned through a process, with renaming to come at a late date and after the community chimes in. A number of amendments to the resolution were discussed and adopted during the meeting. Other Corvallis school names are also up for a review and reconsideration process. 

Watch the meeting on the Corvallis School District YouTube page 

By Cody Mann