By Edward Epstein
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
It was back in January that the San Francisco school board voted to drop the names of such historical figures as Lincoln, fellow 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.
But that decision quickly ran into a buzzsaw of criticism for distorting history, failing to consult with historians or the general public and for distracting the school board from what people said was its main task of preparing to reopen school buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic. The board was assailed by Mayor London Breed, was sued by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and became the subject of a nascent petition drive to use California's recall law to replace the school board.
Herrera's suit, filed in February, said that school officials failed in their duties of preparing for a return to school. The suit had Breed's support. "The Board of Education and the school district have had more than 10 months to roll out a concrete plan to get these kids back in school. So far they have earned an F," Herrera said as he unveiled his lawsuit. "Having a plan to make a plan isn’t going to cut it."
Earlier, the board president said she wanted to delay the renaming process and said if it renewed the effort, it would intensify its historical research and consult with experts from local Bay Area universities.
In its latest vote, the board left open the possibility of again studying names of schools, but only after all students and teachers are back in school full time. But given all the furor, that prospect is uncertain.
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.