Residents of a Chicago suburb have spoken in favor of stripping Founding Father and Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson from the name of a local grade school, but members of the majority Hispanic population don’t want it to honor former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, either.
Activists in Waukegan, Illinois, denounced renaming Thomas Jefferson Middle School in favor of Barack and Michelle Obama Middle School Tuesday night at a school board meeting because of what they decried as the 44th president’s animosity toward Hispanic people.
"I want to urge the school board to drop the names of Barack and Michelle Obama from consideration," said Waukegan native Oscar Arias. "Barack Obama's presidency was filled with hostility against the immigrant community."
While slightly more than half of the town’s population is Hispanic, 78% of the school district’s enrollment is Latin. CNN described Obama’s record on immigration as ''complicated,'' citing that millions of undocumented immigrants were deported under his administration which earned him a reputation as ''deporter-in-chief'' among advocacy groups.
"We feel that Barack Obama disserviced us,'' local activist Julie Contreras said at a protest outside the school board meeting. ''He denied us. And he didn't stop the deportations the way he promised us.
"If you're removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor. And our families do not want to see that name."
Other suggestions put forth included naming the school after 13-term Black congressman John Lewis of Georgia or Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association which later became the United Farm Workers labor union.
School officials also are considering a name change to Daniel Webster Middle School, named after the New Hampshire congressman, senator, constitutional lawyer, orator and secretary of state in the pre-Civil War era. One of his greatest accomplishments was the Compromise of 1850, which settled several disputes between free states and slave states, including the fugitive slave act which required escaped slaves captured in free territory to be returned to their owners.
The three individuals proposed to replace Daniel Webster are Edith Smith, who worked to desegregate Waukegan schools, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson who was the lead character in the 2016 film ''Hidden Figures,'' and Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space.
The Waukegan school board will vote whether to rename the two schools at its next meeting on April 13.
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