A Waukegan, Illinois, middle school will not be renamed “Barack and Michelle Obama Middle School” after pro-immigration activists complained that the former president had a dismal record on deportations.
Instead, Thomas Jefferson Middle School will be renamed after the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights legend who died last summer.
As The Daily Wire reported in March, the Waukegan Board of Education “decided several weeks ago to rename two ‘controversially’ named elementary schools, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Daniel Webster Middle School, over concerns that both historical figures supported the practice of slavery” and following a request on behalf of dozens of students and community members.
“Renaming committees were formed for each school and included people in the community, students, and staff,” according to Chicago’s ABC affiliate. After deliberation, the committees settled on a small number of final possibilities, including Barack and Michelle Obama Middle School.
The decision triggered “Latinx” members of the Waukegan community, who consider Obama a “controversial” figure in his own right.
“The school board heard concerns from the public Tuesday night over one of the finalists in the running to be the new name for Thomas Jefferson Middle School,” ABC News reported back in March. “The country’s first Black President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama is one of the top three choices for the school’s new name but is drawing opposition in the area with a large Latinx population.”
“I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community,” one school board member said during the meeting.
“From the time Barack Obama became President until 2017 when he left, he today is still the highest-ranking president with deportations in our nation,” a local immigration activist told media during a protest. “We feel that Barack Obama did a disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations, the way he promised.”
“If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson – one oppressor – the name of Obama is another oppressor and our families do not want to see that name,” she added.
On Tuesday, the Waukegan School Board voted to select John Lewis Middle School as the institution’s new name. “Daniel Webster Middle School will be renamed for local civil rights activist Edith Smith.”
Waukegan school board president, Brandon Ewing, ultimately decided to drop the Obama name.
“I think he was a great president and he did things to move us forward,” Ewing said, per Fox News. “But just like we’re having the discussion about Thomas Jefferson, all men are flawed and nobody’s legacies are perfect. I think we have a responsibility to listen to all constituents and weigh that in whatever decision we make.”
Lewis, on the other hand, Ewing said, was “one of our icons who we actually got to see grow old” adding that Lewis “embodies what we want to teach our students, and that is how to get into good trouble.”
Waukegan’s school district is hardly the first to undertake a name change for buildings named after historical figures now considered controversial — the San Francisco United School District (SFUSD) undertook a similar effort in 2020 only to drop the crusade after evidence that their research into which historical figures were “controversial” proved inexhaustive — but it may be the first to consider former President Barack Obama controversial.
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