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Abraham Lincoln HS in San Francisco may get renamed — iconic president who abolished slavery wasn't woke enough, renaming committee head says

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'Uprooting the problematic names and symbols that currently clutter buildings, streets, throughout the city is a worthy endeavor,' Jeremiah Jeffries also said

Photo by Alexander Gardner/Getty Images

As TheBlaze previously reported, Abraham Lincoln's name — along with the names of dozens of other historical figures with connections to slavery, genocide, or oppression — may soon may be coming off buildings in the San Francisco school district.

Friday is the deadline to have all the names submitted for consideration — and the San Francisco Chronicle shared insights from the man in charge of the renaming committee as to why Lincoln and other figures are on the chopping block — and why others aren't.

What are the details?

"Uprooting the problematic names and symbols that currently clutter buildings, streets, throughout the city is a worthy endeavor," Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the renaming committee and a first-grade teacher in San Francisco, told the paper. "Only good can come from the public being reflective and intentional about the power of our words, names, and rhetoric within our public institutions."

More from the Chronicle:

To many, Lincoln was one of the country's greatest presidents, the Great Emancipator, a beloved historic figure as well as political mentor to his successors, including Barack Obama, who used the Lincoln Bible for his inauguration.

Yet the renaming of Lincoln High School was a slam dunk for the committee, which didn't even discuss it, according to video of the meetings. The members of the committee, appointed by the school board, deemed whether a person's actions or beliefs met the criteria for renaming, and moved on. The committee's spreadsheet with notes on their research listed the federal treatment of Native Americans during his administration as the reason.

"The discussion for Lincoln centered around his treatment of First Nation peoples, because that was offered first," Jeffries told the paper. "Once he met criteria in that way, we did not belabor the point."

He added to the Chronicle that Lincoln's overall historical legacy is overblown — and even that the Civil War was not fought over slavery or the liberation of black people.

"The history of Lincoln and Native Americans is complicated, not nearly as well known as that of the Civil War and slavery," Jeffries told the paper. "Lincoln, like the presidents before him and most after, did not show through policy or rhetoric that Black lives ever mattered to them outside of human capital and as casualties of wealth building."

Pushback

"He saved the country from dividing and ruin," Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and director of the Hunter College's Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, told the Chronicle. "He should be honored for it."

Holzer added to the paper that Lincoln "was more progressive than most people. There was pretty rampant hostility [toward Native Americans], and I think Lincoln rose above it. Nobody is going to pass 21st century mores if you're looking at the 18th and 19th centuries."

More from the Chronicle:

Lincoln's administration supported the Homestead Act of 1862 and transcontinental railroad, which led to the loss of Indigenous peoples' land. Lincoln himself largely delegated the sometimes bloody response to Native American conflicts while focusing on the Civil War, according to historians.

But Lincoln, whose grandfather was killed by a Native American, oversaw the hanging of 38 indigenous warriors after a Santee Sioux uprising in Minnesota, but only after he personally reviewed the legal cases against the 303 men sentenced to death. He saved the lives of 265 Indigenous men.

Lincoln, historians say, was focused on the Civil War and therefore did little to change policies related to Native Americans, but had planned to.

"If we get through the war and I live, this Indian system will be reformed," he said. He never got the chance.

But for the renaming committee, Lincoln's treatment of Native Americans was more bad than good — and that's why he made the renaming list, the paper said.

"We asked ourselves, 'Did the name under consideration meet one or more of our criteria?' If that name met criteria, they were put on the list," Jeffries told the Chronicle.

The paper said that's exactly the same reason Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's name landed on the renaming list.

After all, Jeffries told the Chronicle, she "chose to fly a flag that is the iconography of domestic terrorism, racism, white avarice, and inhumanity towards black and indigenous people at the City Hall. She is one of the few living examples on our list, so she still has time to dedicate the rest of her life to the upliftment of Black, First Nations and other people of color. She hasn't thus far, so her apology simply wasn't convincing."

More from the paper:

At the same time, labor leader Cesar Chavez didn't make the list, despite his feelings toward undocumented immigrants, who he called "wetbacks" and other derogatory names. He encouraged his supporters to report them to the authorities for deportation.

United Farm Worker members would form "wet lines" at the border and beat those crossing, believing they would be strike breakers, according to his biographer Miriam Pawel.

Jeffries said no one on the committee offered evidence that Chavez met the criteria. He did not say whether anyone on the committee looked for any.

"We did not discuss the life of Cesar Chavez except to say that he did not meet criteria," he added to the Chronicle.

The school board is expected to vote on the name-change recommendations early next year, the paper said.

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