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The Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia has identified four potential new names, which will be voted on by the school community starting next month.
The options were presented last week at a virtual town hall meeting attended by a few dozen parents, teachers, staff and neighbors.
The K-8 school at 13th and Federal streets got school district approval in February to change the name it’s held since 1848. Parents and neighbors have been advocating for nearly three years to rid the Gothic revival building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, of a namesake many considered racist.
During his 1830s tenure as the seventh U.S. president, Jackson pushed forward the “Trail of Tears,” a massive government effort to remove Indigenous people from their native lands. He also personally enslaved more than a hundred African Americans.
That legacy does not represent the public school’s mission, said principal Kelly Espinosa. Jackson also doesn’t have any real connection to Philadelphia.
“We’ve made the decision to change the name of our school to one that will better reflect our values and the diverse students and families we serve,” Espinosa said at the Thursday night meeting. “This is not a process that happened overnight.”
Overall, diversity is notably absent in the names of Philly schools. A Billy Penn analysis found only 5% (27 of 345) are named after people of color. Fewer are named for women, with 18 total and just six named for women of color.
All four replacement candidates for Andrew Jackson are historical Black figures with varying ties to Philadelphia. Here’s a look at the namesakes up for consideration.
Fanny Jackson Coppin
With a middle name that matches its current moniker, Coppin has long been floated as a new namesake idea for the school. She was pitched in the Change.org petition started three years ago.
Born into slavery in Washington, D.C., Coppin’s freedom was purchased by her aunt. She moved to Philly in 1865, where she worked for 40 years as a teacher and principal at the Institute for Colored Youth at 9th and Bainbridge. In 1897, she became vice president of the National Association of Colored Women.
Moore cofounded both the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.
He was the first Black reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, which he did in 1977, for his reporting on a hospital for people with mental illnesses.
Born in 1940, Moore grew up in South Philadelphia not far from the school’s catchment area. He was the fourth Black reporter to work at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He worked to integrate Black stories into the paper’s regular coverage, and started a high school journalism workshop there.
Like many sensible people born in New Jersey, Still relocated in 1844 to Philadelphia, where he became the first Black secretary of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society.
Sometimes known as the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” he helped finance Harriet Tubman’s missions and personally sheltered more than 1,000 people escaping slavery. In fact, Still sheltered many of the fugitives at his home at 625 Delhi Street — which is in the school’s catchment.
Barbara Rose Johns
At just 16 years old, Johns led 450 students at her all-Black high school in Virginia on a two-week strike over school conditions.Of the five lawsuits included in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that would end the practice of “separate but equal” education, It was the only one initiated by a student protest.
Johns moved to Philadelphia in 1955 and worked as a school librarian for more than two decades.
Who gets to decide
Want to vote for your fave? You’re eligible if you live in the school’s neighborhood, or you’re a parent or current student. The next step in the process is another virtual town hall on April 15. After that, the school will send out a survey to collect votes.
At the Thursday meeting, Espinosa said she plans to lead a door-knocking effort in the school’s neighborhood to make sure residents don’t miss the chance to weigh in.