Corvallis School Board’s Renaming Decision: Out with the Old, In with the New

When Jefferson Elementary School was built in 1960, former president Thomas Jefferson’s name was one of the most admired and least controversial in American history. On more than one occasion, there had been serious discussions about creating a state to bear his name. Sixty years later, the fact that he owned enslaved Africans is no longer excused so easily, and people are more willing to discuss speculations that he likely may have raped one or more of his slaves. 

Herbert Hoover and Woodrow Wilson were also widely admired and credited with having made contributions to the building of the U.S., but their lives, too, have been re-examined in recent years. That’s why Jefferson Elementary School, Hoover Elementary and Wilson Elementary were temporarily renamed after their mascots last year, and were known respectively as Jaguar, Husky and Wildcat, the names they have gone by while the school district considered what new names the schools might have. 

A final decision has now been reached. Jefferson/Jaguar is now named after Kathryn Jones Harrison, a leader of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde who worked tirelessly to gain restored Federal recognition for them as a Tribal body and still lives on their reservation at 97 years old. Hoover/Husky is named after groundbreaking aviator Bessie Coleman, one of the first women and the first African American and Native American to fly. Wilson/Wildcat is named after 19th century Oregon pioneer Letitia Carson, one of the first AfricanAmericans in the Willamette Valley. 

The names were chosen by the School Board from among many suggestions which came in from members of the community. In a break from tradition, the Board did not meet publicly, but posted its minutes and allowed for community comments. Members expressed concern over possible reactions from the public to their opinions, given the current social climate surrounding School Board decisions. 

Ryan Noss, Superintendent of School District 509j, said, “I brought Kathryn Jones Harrison, Bessie Coleman and Letitia Carson forward because their stories will inspire our students and send the message that each and every student is welcome in our schools.” 

Correction: In the original article, we said that Hoover Elementary School was changed to Hornet. It was actually Husky.

By John M. Burt