Lincoln’s name remains on San Francisco High School
The claim: San Francisco changed the name of Abraham Lincoln High School because ‘black lives didn’t matter to him’
The San Francisco School Board received national media coverage in early 2021 as part of a campaign to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from a high school in the city.
The controversy resurfaced recently on social media – but with a claim missing on several key facts.
“City renames Abraham Lincoln High School because ‘black lives didn’t matter to him,'” a Feb. 10 article read.
The post has proven popular online, racking up over 1,400 comments and 800 reactions in the month since it was posted. Similar posts on other accounts have also spread widely. The message links to an American Web Media article.
But the article is outdated and misleading. The San Francisco school board did not rename the high school. Although he initially voted in favor of the decision, the board reversed his decision three months later amid fierce opposition. And the original decision was not based on Lincoln’s treatment of black Americans, but on the record of violence against Native Americans under his administration.
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USA TODAY has reached out to the Facebook user for comment.
Lincoln’s name was first removed for treatment of Native Americans
The initial decision to remove Lincoln’s name from the school was part of a district-wide initiative to rename schools with namesakes the district found problematic.
In January 2021, the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education voted to change the names of 44 of its 125 schools with namesakes related to what it considered colonization, slavery, genocide, labor exploitation, gender discrimination, violation of human rights, environmental abuse or racism. It was originally planned to change all names by April 2021.
Lincoln’s name ended up on the list.
Jeremiah Jeffries, chairman of the name change committee and first-grade teacher, told the San Francisco Chronicle shortly after the January vote that Lincoln and most other U.S. presidents “didn’t show through politics or rhetoric that black lives mattered to them outside of the human. capital and as victims of wealth creation.
It spawned the claims on social media, but Jeffries also said Lincoln’s inclusion on the list came after the committee reviewed his treatment of Native Americans. The name change committee cited Lincoln’s role in sentencing 39 Dakota men to death after a failed uprising in 1862.
“Once he met the criteria in that way, we didn’t press the point,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, Lincoln made the decision after deciding there was evidence the men had committed murder or rape during the uprising. Defenders of Lincoln point to the fact that the president commuted the sentences of 264 other Native American men in the decision.
Lincoln was one of many high profile names that made the list. The names advisory committee also decided to remove Dianne Feinstein, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key and Paul Revere, among others, from school sites. A full list can be found in the board minutes of September 9, 2020.
The name change never happened
The attempt to change the names on a quick schedule drew widespread public criticism, leading the school board to reverse its decision in April.
The committee’s initial decision included incorrect assessments of Revere as a settler of the Penobscot people and of the name Alamo Elementary as a reference to the Texas fort rather than the Spanish word for a poplar tree, according to the Associated Press. “
Critics included San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who called the board’s decision to rename schools amid pandemic-induced school closures “offensive.” She released a statement wondering why the council hadn’t brought “the same urgency and focus to getting our kids back to school”.
Many parents also spoke out against the decision, also criticizing the timing and process.
The committee reversed its January 2021 vote in April, saying it would table the decision to rename all schools in the city for the time being.
In February, San Francisco residents recalled three school board members in the city’s first recall vote since 1983. Those three — the president, vice president, and commissioner — were the only board members eligible to be revoked. Parents launched the recall effort in January 2021, galvanized in part by school board priorities, which included the name change committee, according to The Associated Press.
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Our opinion: Partially false
Based on our research, we rate the claim that San Francisco changed the name of Abraham Lincoln High School because “black lives didn’t matter to it” PARTLY FALSE. The school board voted to change the name of Abraham Lincoln High School in the district following the suggestion of its name change committee. But that decision was based on Lincoln’s treatment of Native Americans, not blacks. And the decision was later reversed amid public outcry, before the school’s name was actually changed.
Our fact-checking sources:
- Asian Law Journal, January 1998, Excluded, Separated and Forgotten: A Historical View of the Discrimination of Chinese Americans in Public Schools
- Associated Press, December 31, 2018, Lincoln Ordered Execution of Dozens of Sioux Warriors, Commuted Sentences of Others
- Associated Press, April 7, 2021, San Francisco Board of Education suspends plans to rename one-third of city’s public schools after backlash
- Associated Press, Feb. 16, San Francisco recalls 3 school board embers amid parent backlash over pandemic handling
- San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 2020 Abraham Lincoln, once a hero, is now a villain in some SF education circles
- San Francisco Unified School District School Names Advisory Committee, July 17, 2020, SFUSD School Names Advisory Committee Guidelines
- San Francisco Unified School District School Names Advisory Committee, Accessed January 23, Minutes Wednesday, September 9, 2020 – 5:30-7:00 p.m.
- Smithsonian Magazine, January 10, 2021, Black Lives Matter Certainly to Abraham Lincoln
- USA TODAY, December 20, 2020, Fact Check: Abraham Lincoln HS of San Francisco on name change list, but decision not final
- USA TODAY, January 27, 2021, Abraham Lincoln, Released. George Washington gone. San Francisco is voting to rename 44 schools for namesakes’ ties to racism and slavery.
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Our fact-checking work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.