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Five different pioneering women are on the short list of new names for Southwest Portland high school.

PHOTO COURTESY OF PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - A short list of five names for Woodrow Wilson High School has been shared with the public. The Southwest Portland high school is slated to be renamed sometime in 2021.Southwest Portland's Wilson High School is likely to be renamed after a Black woman.

A school renaming committee has sifted through community suggestions to whittle down a list of five names for the high school. All of the proposed names are those of pioneering Black women.

The names up for consideration include Harriet Wilson, who has no connection to Oregon but whose last name would allow the school to keep the Wilson moniker.

Wilson is regarded as the first African American to write and publish a book, though her first work was published anonymously. Those who pitched Wilson's name to the renaming committee suggested Wilson "would be a fitting legacy and an important lesson in representation." One of the committee's guiding principles is to highlight someone often overlooked in traditionally taught history.

Also on the Wilson High renaming committee list is Beatrice Morrow Cannady, who moved to Portland in 1912 and helped her husband run The Advocate, the city's first Black newspaper. Cannady went on to found the Portland chapter of the NAACP. Some historians credit her as being the first African American woman to practice law in Oregon, but other sources note Cannady never passed the Bar exam.

Cannady's name has also been informally suggested as the future namesake of A Park in Southwest Portland, which was recently given a temporary name in a transition away from its former iteration, Custer Park.

Another among the names of five women is Mercedes Deiz, who is considered Oregon's first Black female attorney, according to the Oregon State Bar Association. Deiz also became the state's first Black woman to become a district court judge and the first to become elected as a county circuit court judge.

Sojourner Truth, the historic figure who escaped slavery and went on to become one of America's earliest and most influential civil rights advocates, is also on the list of names under consideration. Truth, born a slave in New York as Isabella Baumfree, rechristened herself as Sojourner Truth after a religious conversion. She was noted for helping to recruit Black men for the Union Army.

Ida B. Wells, whose name is also on the list for consideration, was born into slavery but later became a notable journalist and civil rights advocate. Her public outcries to end lynching, along with the founding of several civil rights groups, including the first Black women's suffrage association, landed her on the list for possible high school namesakes.

"The Renaming Committee has been working tirelessly over the last few months to develop an inclusive and equity-minded process for selecting the new name for Wilson High School," Principal Filip Hristic stated in an email to students and families Tuesday, Dec. 15. "All of these remarkable women meet the district naming protocols, they align with our committee's renaming guidelines and they reflect multiple community recommendations."

Hristic noted the committee combed through more than 600 suggested names.

"I want to acknowledge that there are many other worthy candidates who could have been on this short list," he said. "I hope that other schools and communities choose to honor and recognize other sheroes and heroes who have been overlooked and ignored."

A community feedback survey is currently open for input online until Jan. 1. The Portland Public Schools Board of Trustees is expected to make a final decision in 2021.

The renaming process of what is currently known as Woodrow Wilson High School started last year, when students petitioned the district to change the school's name, noting President Wilson's racist and divisive actions while in office.


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