We are in the midst of a fight for civil rights. The abrupt killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other unarmed black men have caused mass outrage. This summer, a massacre at a historic black church in Charleston made it clear that there is still much progress to be made. A Confederate flag flying near South Carolina’s capitol also highlighted that despite many advancements, symbols of racism have become ingrained in our everyday lives.
In July, protesters forced South Carolina to remove the flag. But many other streets, libraries, and even our currency, undeservedly honor historical figures that implemented racist policies. If we want to progress as a nation, we shouldn’t stop at removing the Confederate flag — we should reconsider the names of our schools.
My hometown of Miami is a cultural melting pot today, but it also felt the racial conflicts of American history. The “separate but equal” slogan that oppressed African Americans caused as much damage in Miami as anywhere else, filling the city with “colored” restrooms, “white only” signs, and segregated public schools. Many of Miami’s original trolleys and buses included “black only” seating in the back.
My school is named after Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. Jackson was a slave owner, and his Indian Removal Act of 1830 led to the displacement and massacre of thousands of Native Americans. My school’s neighborhood was predominantly white until the 1950s, but is more than 90 percent black and Hispanic today.
The numbers are even starker at Miami Jackson High School: 99 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, and only 1 percent are white. It is distasteful that such a school is named after a slave owner and Indian killer. That is comparable to a predominately Jewish school being named after Hitler. Jackson’s actions as president directly led to the slaughter of thousands of Native Americans, and gave millions of acres of land to white settlers and slave plantations.
To be sure, some argue that Andrew Jackson should be honored because he was a president of the United States. However, the negative impact he had on the lives of people persists to this day and outweighs his importance as a historic figure.
My school honored Andrew Jackson with a plaque in 1939. It’s guarded by metal bars so we don’t step over it while entering the school. But if South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove a symbol of hate from their capitol, we can fight to remove this honor from a president who oppressed entire races.