Portland Debates Renaming Jefferson High School

ashley.rae | January 30, 2018
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When President Trump spoke about the removal of Confederate statues at the height of its controversy, many thought Trump being hyperbolic when he said Thomas Jefferson would be next. But one school in Portland may change its name honoring Jefferson because of his connection to slavery.

On Monday, a meeting was held at a local library in North Portland to discuss changing the name of Jefferson High School. KOIN 6 reports the major group in favor of getting rid of the Jefferson name is the Humboldt Neighborhood Association.

On the Humboldt Neighborhood Association website, the group claims many are “uninformed” about Jefferson’s history as a slave owner. The site claims that, upon surveying Jefferson’s “behaviors and writings,” they believe he supported “white supremacy” and eugenics:

Thomas Jefferson’s behaviors and writings would lead us to believe that he was a proponent of white supremacy, unopposed to forced sexual encounters (when done within the bounds of his legal rights as a property owner) and was perhaps, one of the earliest eugenicists in modern history.

Clifford Walker, the Humboldt Neighborhood Association historian, told KOIN 6 Jefferson was “probably one of the largest slave traders and dealers in African flesh.”

Walker said having the Jefferson name on the high school sends the message that “we’re not sensitive to people who are offended by those kinds of images.”

According to OPB, Walker has been campaigning to rename Jefferson High School for “more than a decade.”

Walker told OPB, “Right now, the centerpiece of our neighborhood is a shrine and memorial to a Virginia slave trader.”

Lennie Edwards, a digital media teacher at Jefferson High School, shared similar concerns.

Edwards told OPB before the meeting, “I well understand the importance of the ideas of Thomas Jefferson have played not only in this country but really inspired people around the world,” however, “But by the same token, the reprehensible behavior of the man, again I don’t think it’s a proper symbol for high school.”

Edwards told OPB, if the decision were up to him, “I would like to see the name change to Barack Obama High School.”

Rosie Willis, who called herself “a proud Demo,” told KOIN 6 she opposes the possible name change. While speaking, she said, “Leave Jefferson High School alone.”

KOIN 6 reports that in order to change the name of the school, supporters will need to sign a petition that will be given to the superintendent’s office.

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