As Portland’s protests against systemic racism reached their zenith, the state’s largest school district began a fast-track process to rename two high schools, the namesakes of which students and community activists had long railed against.
“We’re responding to the energy in our community about the name changes,” Portland Public Schools’ Senior Advisor for Racial Equity and Social Justice Dani Ledezma told the school board in mid-July.
Woodrow Wilson had long been the target of students, teachers and alumni at the now-Ida B. Wells High who pushed to scrub the 28th president’s name off the Southwest Portland high school. His embrace of the Ku Klux Klan and segregation of federal offices were among the many reasons the community objected.
Nearly 11 miles away as the crow flies, James Madison’s legacy was similarly scrutinized by the community at McDaniel High. Students and faculty filled a virtual school board meeting in September 2020 to voice their opposition to naming one of the district’s schools after a man who enslaved more than 100 Black Americans.
“Our school’s namesake, President James Madison, was racist and was someone whose beliefs and actions stand in direct conflict with our school’s and our district’s commitment to racial equity,” Principal Adam Skyles wrote in a note of support for the renaming effort.