A New Jersey High School named after former President Woodrow Wilson is being renamed after activists cited its namesake’s legacy of racism.
The Camden High School District announced that it would begin the process of renaming the high school, built in 1930, nearly a year and a half after activists began circulating a change.org petition to change the school’s name.
“After years of examining the legacy of former US President Woodrow Wilson, WE have come to see that his views and actions contradict the values and diversity We see in Woodrow Wilson High School today as well as the society WE live in Camden NJ,” the petition reads, adding that “[we] must be honest with Our People about the truth of a School that was named after a white Supremacist who was a former US President.”
“To continue to have such a name on a school only aides as a continuous reminder of a true systemic oppression that has not only been foreseen by US as parents but also Now through the eyes of Our Children today.”
The petition gained newfound momentum in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Announcing the move last June, Camden School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs cited community concern about the school “being named after an individual who expressed and demonstrated racist values.” A renaming committee was formed following the announcement. Suggested namesakes included former U.S. Representative and Civil Rights Advocate John Lewis, former President Barack Obama, and late Camden school board president Martha Wilson, NJ.com reported.
The school district put the move on pause in the fall to focus on COVID-19 protocols, but the process was completely restarted in October with a new committee. “[I]t’s too early in the process to speculate on specific names,” a school spokesperson told NJ.com.
“We are proud that our schools represent places of diversity and inclusion, and we plan to increase our efforts to reshape the identity of this venerable and cherished school,” the district said in a statement to NJ.com. “We plan to collaboratively work with current Wilson students, parents, alumni, and community leaders on an inclusive process to rename the school.”
“The district is grateful for the collaboration and support of the community on these efforts and looks forward to completing this significant project.”
Wilson served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Before that, he served as Governor of New Jersey and President of Princeton University. One of the early progenitors of the modern progressive movement, Wilson is known for his expansion of the federal government and interventionist, democracy-focused foreign policy. Among several racial controversies, Wilson’s federal bureaucracy was notoriously segregated, and he screened the racially controversial film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House in 1915.
News of the school’s renaming comes as statues of two other former presidents were removed from public display in New York City. The City’s Public Design Commission removed a statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Council Chamber over concerns about Jefferson’s relationship to slavery. A statue of Theodore Roosevelt was also removed from the American Museum of Natural History over concerns that the statue symbolizes racism and colonialism.