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Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis pushes to remove Founding Father from school name

The Field Director for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change speaks at a forum at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis on February 12, 2016. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) attended the event as a Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

A group of students at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis have been pushing to change the name of their school for months, and it looks like they might be able to do it.

This student- and teacher-led campaign, which started in September, argued that, despite being one of the Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry’s history of owning slaves should disqualify him from being the namesake of a school, particularly one that is more than 50 percent black, WCCO-TV reported.

This situation is not without precedent. The students and staff working to change the name are following a model left for them when Minneapolis’ Ramsey Middle School changed its name to Justice Page Middle School last June. In that case the original namesake, Alexander Ramsey, called for the extermination of members of the Sioux tribe in Minnesota in the 1860s. Justice Alan Page was the first black Minnesota Supreme Court justice.

Teacher Enitan Yarbrough remarked that Patrick Henry could face a bit more of an uphill climb than Justice Page Middle School did: “This is a high school, there might be a little more attachment to the name.”

Other schools across the country have also successfully pushed similar measures. In Virginia, the Fairfax County School Board voted in October 2017 to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School to Justice High School, and in January the Hampton, Virginia, school board renamed Jefferson Davis Middle School after Cesar Tarrant, a slave who fought on the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War and who died in the town. In San Antonio, Robert E. Lee High School changed its name to LEE High School in October 2017, with this LEE being an acronym for Legacy of Educational Excellence.

Students at Patrick Henry met with alumni and members of the community yesterday to present their plan for renaming the school. If approved, the new school name will be decided by two sets of surveys that will narrow the choices down to three. These three names will then be presented to the school superintendent next month. While no decision on these names has yet been reached, WCCO reported that Unity High School has been a popular suggestion.

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