RACINE — A new community group is calling for Racine Unified’s Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary School to be renamed so that it is no longer named for Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States who authored the Declaration of Independence but also owned more than 600 slaves throughout his lifetime.
U.S. history books invariably talk about Jefferson’s contributions to the foundation of the United States, but they often ignore the abuses of Black people he perpetrated, according to the proposal from the new community group: Black Employees Matter.
The purpose of Black Employees Matter is to advocate for and improve the achievement of students, primarily students of color, in Racine Unified. One of its primary goals is to increase the number of Black educators hired and retained by the school district.
Black Employees Matter is led by Kevin Brown, who worked for the Racine Unified School District for more than two decades before leaving in 2014, and by Scott Terry, a Racine native and educator who founded Sentinel Mentors, a “mentoring and social enterprise initiative empowering African American youth and families in Racine County.”
This proposal has not yet been presented to Racine Unified, according to the district’s spokeswoman Stacy Tapp. Name changes to schools need to be approved by the RUSD Board of Education.
“When he (Jefferson) wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was not truthful,” Brown said, referring to how Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal” but still treated many men as lesser.
In the proposal to change the name of the school, Brown wrote: “As a result of Thomas Jefferson owning and raping slaves, he should not be on any school and definitely not on a school with African American students. Thomas Jefferson’s name should not be plastered on City of Racine’s structures, schools, or monuments. Thomas Jefferson, to the African American community, serves as a reminder of a dark and violent past.”
There are 20 elementary, middle and high schools in total within RUSD that are named after people. Out of those 20, only one is named after a person of color — Julian Thomas Elementary School, which got its name from a local civil rights leader who was instrumental in integrating Racine’s schools in the 1970s.
The request to change the name of Jefferson Lighthouse School comes as a surge of similar actions nationwide call for the removal of names of slave owners, Confederates and others who stood in the way of civil rights from public places.
Horlick High School is removing all Confederate imagery related to its school mascot and team name: the Rebels.
Black Employees Matter has offered five other names to replace Jefferson’s name on the school.
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