Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden will now be called Eastside High break with the segregationist views and practices of the former president and governor of New Jersey.
School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs announced the new name of one of her two traditional high schools during a board advisory meeting Tuesday night. It was approved by a vote of 6 to 2; a member of the office was absent.
“The renaming of our Woodrow Wilson High School shows that we have heard the voices of our students and our community,” McCombs said in a statement. “The name change has made it clear to all of us to never give up and to keep moving forward until the change happens.”
The change comes nearly two years after McCombs announced plans to rename the school in June 2020, citing both Wilson’s past and protests over the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. The neighborhood, which has around 6,000 students, is predominantly black and Latino.
As president from 1913 to 1921, Wilson was known for his progressive policies and leadership during World War I. But he also oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices, with workers segregated by race.
Located on Federal Street in East Camden, Woodrow Wilson High School opened as a middle school in 1930 and became a high school three years later. Today it is the only stand-alone traditional public high school in the district and one of the oldest. Prominent graduates include Mike Rozer, 1983 Heisman Trophy winner and former Mayor Frank Moran.
A committee of over 100 members initially began work on the name change in response to a petition. Possible names considered at the time were former President Barack Obama, former U.S. Representative John Lewis and former school board member Martha Wilson.
The district halted the renaming process due to the pandemic, and the original group was replaced with a 10-member committee that included current Wilson students, alumni and two advisory board members. The district asked anyone interested in serving to fill out a questionnaire.
Longtime community activist Jose Delgado, who lives near the school, said many stakeholders were left out of the name change. The former school board member said he applied to serve on the committee but was not selected.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Delgado said.
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Delgado compiled his own list of possible names, including baseball great Roberto Clemente; Ramon Emeterio Betances, physician and abolitionist; Luis Munoz Marin, the first elected governor of Puerto Rico; and Preston Gunning, a former Camden teacher and district business administrator.
Camden, operating as a state takeover district since 2013, has 17 schools. McCombs said there are no plans to rename any other schools.
After the killings of Floyd and other black men, protesters across the country lobbied to remove monuments and rename institutions. At Princeton University, where Wilson served as president between 1902 and 1910, students successfully protested to have his name and likeness removed from the Ivy League campus.
A push to rename Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC sparked a fierce debate that has gone unresolved. Many thought the school should be renamed because of Wilson’s practices, but they parted ways over a new name.
Last year, the Philadelphia school district renamed slave owner Andrew Jackson Elementary School after Fanny Jackson Coppin, a former slave and educator.
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