Kingsley House board members, senior leadership, elected officials and staff announced that the name of the 125-year-old nonprofit will be changed. The decision came after racist ideologies of Charles Kingsley, a Victorian-era British clergyman, author and social reformer, were discovered.
The nonprofit is a social and human multi-service organization with a focus ranging from toddlers to seniors, Kingsley House officials say. Its main campus is in the Lower Garden District.
Kingsley House CEO Keith Liederman said that he and others involved in the decision believe it’s important to dissociate the nonprofit from someone with contradicting viewpoints.
“We are proud of the impact we’ve had in our first 125 years and believe our renaming decision is a testament to our ongoing commitment to advancing systemic change for our children, families and community,” Liederman said.
According to Liederman, Kingsley House partly adopted its name from Kingsley Warner, son of Kingsley House founder the Rev. Beverley Warner. Kingsley Warner died as a toddler. The name, however, also serves to honor the Rev. Charles Kinglsey, then known primarily as a Christian socialist who fought for labor reforms.
Liederman said that in 2019, a group of English scholars published extensive research on Kinglesy in observance of the 200th anniversary of his birth. They uncovered writings and sermons that reveal fervent biases against the Irish, Jews and Catholics and contain racist references to Black people.
Subsequently, in 2020, in preparation for the 125th Kingsley House anniversary, knowledge of his racist views were brought to light — knowledge that Liederman said was unknown prior to this research.
According to Liederman, despite what Charles Kingsley represents, Kingsley House’s extensive history exemplifies how the organization has been a pillar to empowering diverse communities in New Orleans and the surrounding areas and how inclusivity has always been a factor in mission-guided actions.
Liederman said that the nonprofit’s first program in 1896 was a child-care program in a resettlement home for immigrants in New Orleans.
The organization is also behind a list of historical firsts: the first kindergarten in Louisiana, the first jobs-skill program for the blind in Louisiana, the home of the first social work school in the country. It was even responsible for the first playground in the world, which led to the creation of the New Orleans Recreation Department.
Liederman added that Kingsley House has continued to dedicate time and passion toward strengthening communities through nationally accredited and state-certified programs and services.
“We’ve always been focused on serving the underserved marginalized in our community, people who are struggling because of various forms of oppression, and ostracism and disenfranchisement,” Liederman said. “That’s always been our primary focus, to change our society [and to] change the way things happen in our community so that our kids and families can succeed.”
After discovering Charles Kingsley’s writings and sermons last year, Liederman said that an immediate decision to take action and change the organization’s name was made within two weeks of the findings.
Liederman explained that when he considers the organization’s history and the manner of which its origins have been framed, focus has been put on how the Rev. Warner named it for his son.
“It speaks a whole lot to what we do, and our historic mission, and what we’ve always been focused on, which is children and families,” he said. However, Liederman adds, he and leaders in the organization recognize that Charles Kingsley was a part of the naming as well.
“Knowing what we know now about him, we feel that it’s critically important that we make this transition at this time,” he said. “This is a change that absolutely must happen from our perspective as an organization because the name no longer represents who we are, what we do, what we’ve always done in our community, [or] what we believe.”
A name-changing committee of program participants, staff, board, senior leadership, elected officials and community leaders was formed last year that has been meeting regularly over the months. They also considered name ideas from community members.
Despite the reason behind having to do so, Liederman said that the process of fielding potential alternate names has been exciting. They have learned the history about various people and their community contributions, and that those involved in the decision look forward to finding a name that aligns with the nonprofit’s commitment and mission, he said.
Although the criteria for suggestions was broad, Liederman stated that “universally decided on is that we want a name that really reflects the work that we do and the work that we’ve always done.”
Liederman declined to disclose the names under consideration.
A new name is expected to be announced by fall of this year. Until then, the organization will continue to operate as Kingsley House.
Reporter Camille Barnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.