Ida B. Wells-Barnett new namesake of Southwest Portland school
It's official: the high school formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High is now Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School. A unanimous Portland Public Schools Board vote Tuesday, Jan. 26, to approve the name change for the Southwest Portland high school was welcomed by students and the school's principal.
"Shortly after we received the superintendent's approval, we reached out to the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation, which is a nonprofit that's run by some of her descendants," Principal Filip Hristi? said. "I had a conversation last Friday with Ida B. Wells's great-grandson, who was just elated, and said 'thank you for reaching out to us at this point; usually we find out afterward.'"
Hristi? said he was "both excited and humbled" that his school will be joining the lineage.
"She is somebody who really resonates with a lot of people," he said.
It was announced by the school earlier this month that a renaming committee had narrowed down its list of five names to one — Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in the south, then later became a civil rights activist, author and journalist.
The journey of transforming Wells-Barnett High's identity from a white supremacist sympathizer president to a pioneering Black woman didn't happen without resistance.
Some Portlanders argued that Wilson's legacy is complicated and marked by more than oppression.
But that wasn't a compelling argument for keeping the old name on a school, PPS Board Director Andrew Scott said.
"This action doesn't erase Wilson's legacy; it acknowledges his full legacy in a way that's long overdue," Scott, a Wilson High alumnus, said. "It determines that on balance, Wilson does not deserve a prominent place on the front of one of our comprehensive high schools."
Others have questioned whether the school name should be hyphenated, as most historical material regarding the school's new namesake does not use the last name she took on after marriage.
Students told the board they wanted to honor Wells-Barnett's whole life, by using the name she used up until her death.
For most students, the hyphenation matters far less than the gesture.
Aslan Newson is part of the high school's Black Student Union.
"As a Black woman, having the place that I go to school every single day … having a place that I know represents me as a Black woman, means the world to me," Newson told the school board. "When you're going to a school of someone who was named after a slave owner or KKK member, or a white supremacist, that takes a toll on your entire educational career and it's not fair. We are very fortunate to be able to have this opportunity to rename our school, but there are many other schools in our PPS district that need renaming as well."
Director Michelle DePass congratulated the handful of students who advocated for the change and worked with the renaming committee to find a solution, noting it would prepare them for activism work into their college years.
The name change takes effect immediately. Principal Hristic noted a branding campaign will follow, during which time school officials will decide whether to include the hyphenated version of the name on school merchandise and sports jerseys. It's unclear whether the school's Trojan mascot will remain.
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