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San Francisco Gives Lincoln a Reprieve

By Edward Epstein

Washington D.C.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Facing widespread scorn, San Francisco's school board says it will reconsider its decision to drop the names of Abraham Lincoln and other historical figures from the city's public schools.

The next time, the board's president said, it will consult with historians from local universities before deciding on renaming any of the 44 schools it had initially targeted. In the first go-round, a board task force did its own research, which in some cases consisted of little more than consulting Wikipedia articles and History Channel postings.

It was just about three weeks ago that the elected school board voted 6-1 to remove names that it said were associated with racism, slavery, colonization, worker exploitation, environmental damage and discrimination against gays and lesbians. In addition to Abraham Lincoln High School, the board’s decision would have affected schools named for such historical figures as presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, Paul Revere, California environmentalist John Muir and even Dianne Feinstein, the city’s former mayor who is now a US senator from California.

The move to reconsider the school renaming initiative, which School Board president Gabriela Lopez announced Sunday in a statement, came about not long after Mayor London Breed sued the independent board for failing to reopen the city’s public schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. Breed, who criticized the board for undertaking the school renaming initiative rather than focusing on safely reopening the schools, said in her suit that private schools had safely reopened even as public schools remained shut.

Lopez said Sunday that the board’s renaming committee will suspend meetings and that the board will focus on its pandemic response. She did not give a timeline for when the renaming project would be taken up again.

She acknowledged that the entire renaming process was flawed. "I acknowledge and take responsibility that mistakes were made in the renaming process," she said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that a recall petition campaign has been launched against Lopez and two other School Board members.

The board had been criticized for doing little serious research in its original renaming project. The next time, if it consults with historians, it could reach out to such noted local universities as the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

In its original renaming decision, the reasons the board gave for wanting to drop Lincoln’s name included his signing of the 1862 Pacific Railway Act and the Homestead Act, which led to settlers heading west and taking land away from Native Americans. It also cited Lincoln’s controversial decision to allow 38 Sioux warriors in Minnesota to be hanged following the six-week Dakota Uprising in 1862.

But it didn’t mention that Lincoln had personally reviewed the cases of all the Sioux originally sentenced to death in the uprising and had granted clemency to 265 men. Those hanged were directly implicated in the killings of whites, including women and children.

Lincoln, who undertook his personal review of the cases during tough times for the Union side during the Civil War, was warned by supporters in the upper Midwest that he would pay a steep political price if he did not allow all the hangings to go ahead.


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