CSD school renamings seek to provide ‘more complete,’ ‘authentic’ American history

Letitia Carson Elementary School located at 2701 NW Satinwood St. in Corvallis, Ore. Before recent efforts to change problematic school names in the area, the school was called Wildcat Elementary, and prior to that, was named Wilson Elementary.

Lara Rivera, News Contributor

The Corvallis School District has renamed three elementary schools formerly known as Hoover, Jefferson and Wilson, one year after the resolution was originally proposed. 

The name change was completed in the fall of 2021. Originally, the name change was proposed in Aug. 2020 by CSD board member, Vincent Adams. Adams set out to get the community involved in the renaming. 

As a result, the task force, composed of 13 members representing different ethnicities, genders and ages, reviewed over 100 names sent in by the community that would fit the criteria. 

In the resolution, there is one disqualifier that states: “Those [people] that intentionally perpetuated white dominance—i.e. slave holders, racist and/or anti-Indigenous views, etc.—will not be considered.” 

Center Director of Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws at Oregon State University and CSD Board Member and Co-Vice Chair, Luhui Whitebear, said she believes that naming elementary schools after women of color shows that “who we hold up as worthy of that type of honor can be more inclusive and that women have contributed significantly to our society, as well.” 

Kelly Locey, CSD’s communication coordinator, explained that it was a process that depended on the community’s feedback and suggestions. The district and the task force were especially focusing on getting nominations for women who have been involved in social justice, since there is no history of schools named after women in Corvallis. 

Adams said overall, there has been positive feedback from the students, parents and staff. This is because, as Adams explained, “kids have participated in the ‘why.’” 

The scrutiny that was applied to the presidents were applied to all the nominee names that were proposed during the renaming. Three of OSU’s history professors were involved in the deep research of various historical actors. 

The chosen names are: Letitia Carson, a former enslaved person who came to Oregon in 1845 when Oregon’s Black exclusionary laws were still active; Kathryn Jones Harrison, an important tribal leader of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon; and Bessie Coleman, the first African American and Indigenous person to hold a pilot license. 

Oregon’s three Black exclusionary laws prohibited Black people from living in Oregon territory for more than three years, barred Black people who were not already in Oregon from entering or living in the territory and stopped Black people from owning property and making contracts.

After this year, the task force and superintendent are confident in their “recipe” to rename the schools after people that inspire the children attending Corvallis’ schools. The school board is looking into moving on to other schools that may have problematic names in the area. 

To Adams, taking down the names of presidents is looking at all of history, instead of looking at the presidents via one lens. 

“That’s what we’re asking [for], a more complete history,” Adams said. “An authentic history of America.”