Local schools are more than educational institutions. They are refuges for students and families seeking a safe place, gathering places for community, sources of civic pride, or any number of things. Schools are often named for people who have left a legacy or positively impacted the surrounding neighborhoods. Schools are the communities they serve.
This begs the question, why name a school after a person known to be an enemy of that community? Why name a school that serves many races and cultures after a person who fought to oppress or constrain the liberty of those different races and cultures? Why is a school in Miami Dade County that serves a population that is 67% Hispanic and 32% Black and 1% White non-Hispanic named after a man who owned slaves and facilitated the forced migration of Native Americans to reservations?
There are several schools in Florida named after Andrew Jackson. One of them is in the Alapatta neighborhood of Miami. Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States. He was a well respected soldier and general, but also a vehement anti-abolitionist. Some accounts of Jackson’s life portray him as a kindly slave owner (if one can be kind while also owning another person). He “allowed” his slaves to live in family groups of five to ten persons in 20 square foot cabins. He allowed them to hunt and fish and sometimes paid them in small amounts of money that they could spend in the town market. He also believed in whipping slaves in order to increase productivity or if he felt they deserved it. In addition to the slave whippings, there is also evidence that he posted advertisements and bounties for the return of fugitive slaves who had tried to escape his vast plantation.
This question of what to do about the legacies of men who participated in the business of slavery while also leading lives that helped shape the country is a touchy one. President Trump made it clear where he stands on the issue. By his logic if you get rid of commemorations to men like Jackson then you must also get rid of memorials to men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington who also owned slaves.
In the case of schools named for confederate generals or men with less than stellar records on race relations, many don’t know the history behind the names on the buildings. When discussing Andrew Jackson High in Miami with people from the neighborhood that surrounds the school, they made it clear that the Jackson name was of little concern. The school is a neighborhood institution. It has produced famous alumni and a football team that engenders support akin to that of a college team. At this point, removing the name could be seen by some as a dismantling of community tradition.
What a cruel trick, to make Andrew Jackson an indelible part of the tapestry of a minority community. The legacy of a man who owned slaves presides over an institution meant to educate the descendants of those slaves and a population of Hispanic minorities whom Jackson most likely would have also seen as less than.
Schools are the communities they serve. Shouldn’t the name of the school reflect that? Please leave a comment and tell us what you think. Should we change the names of schools named for confederates and slave owners? Has enough time passed to where the name no longer matters? Is this a fight worth fighting? Talk back to us and let’s start a discussion.