A Chicago elementary school that once bore the name of a racist Harvard biologist has now been renamed after Harriet Tubman, the iconic abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor. Now known as Harriet Tubman Elementary School, the educational institution was previously named after Swiss-American biologist Louis Agassiz, the Associated Press reported.
Tubman was a key figure of the Underground Railroad, a large movement in North America consisting of several individuals who worked together to aid enslaved African Americans in their escape from their captors.
Agassiz, on the other hand, was a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard in the 1800s. He is described as “a prominent supporter of racial segregation and white supremacy.” He was also a scientific racism proponent who tried to prove White people were biologically superior to Blacks.
The name change comes after a group of parents reportedly campaigned for the school to be renamed after Tubman. A 2020 report by the Chicago Sun-Times revealed 30 schools in the city bore the names of slaveholders and racists including Agassiz. Chicago Public Schools officials are now allowing schools that are named after such individuals to be renamed.
In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said the new name was “more inclusive and representative of CPS values.”
“The CPS Office of Equity is committed to a comprehensive review process to consider new school names when a school is named after individuals who do not represent the values of our students, families, faculty and support staff,” the statement added.
Some twenty years ago, a Massachusetts school that also bore the name of Agassiz was renamed after Maria L. Baldwin – the school’s first Black principal, the Associated Press reported.
“Having her as a new name of our school shows that our school is a place for good people to thrive and develop,” Harriet Tubman Elementary school told ABC7 Chicago.