New Orleans school Superintendent Henderson Lewis has proposed names to replace school buildings named after slave owners and segregationists across New Orleans, including eight school buildings in Uptown neighborhoods.
The superintendent’s recommendations were submitted to the Orleans Parish School Board, which will have the final say in a July 29 vote.
This current renaming wave is one of many in the city’s history, as community members have advocated for name changes for decades. The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 reignited the movement for schools named after slave owners or segregationists to be renamed.
Orleans Parish School Board has the authority to change only the physical name on any school building they own. However, the charter boards of the schools within those buildings do not have to change the name of their academic program.
Henry W. Allen
Lewis chose musician and educator Ellis L. Marsalis Jr. to replace the Henry W. Allen for the school building at 5625 Loyola Ave.
The Henry W. Allen School closed after Hurricane Katrina. The building housed the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School, or Sci High, until the charter secondary school moved into a new Mid-City campus in January.
Henry W. Allen was a slave owner and Confederate officer with a sugarcane plantation in West Baton Rouge.
Marsalis was a jazz pianist and an instructor at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and the University of New Orleans.
Marsalis played piano for a Marine-sponsored weekly CBS television show named “Dress Blues,” and a Marine Corps sponsored radio show called “Leather Songbook,” according to The History Makers.
In 1974, Marsalis joined the staff at the NOCCA in 1974 and worked there for the next 12 years. Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Audubon Charter School
Dorothy Mae Taylor is the proposed name to replace Audubon Charter School’s current one for its Broadway Street building.
John James Audubon was a Kentucky slave owner who used the knowledge of indigenous and African enslaved peoples to build his reputation as a bird expert, never giving them credit.
Taylor was the first African-American woman to be elected to and serve in the Louisiana House of Representatives and the first woman elected to New Orleans’ City Council in 1986.
In 1992, Taylor presented a controversial ordinance banning discrimination in the membership of Mardi Gras krewes. Taylor also fought for inclusion at the parks, pools and playgrounds run by the New Orleans Recreation Department.
The new proposed name for the building named after Alcee Fortier is former Fortier music teacher Elijah Brimmer Jr. The school is now home to Lusher’s upper grades.
Alcee Fortier, a writer and historian who taught at Tulane University for 35 years, was a part of The White League, a white terrorist organization started in 1874 to intimidate freed slaves into not voting.
Brimmer was among the second wave of Black teachers to integrate Fortier High School. Fortier alumni organized a petition in July 2020 to drum up support for the Lusher high school campus being named after their former teacher.
Benjamin Franklin Elementary
Lewis chose the name Vorice Jackson Waters from the list of public suggestions to replace the building that houses Benjamin Franklin Elementary Mathematics and Science School — a name that was not included in the list submitted by the NOLA-Public Schools Renaming Committee.
Vorice Jackson Waters was the name of a Gentilly elementary school that was razed after Hurricane Katrina, making way for the new McDonogh 35 High School campus.
Waters was principal of Edward H. Phillips Junior High School in Gentilly from 1955 to 1990. Phillips was also flooded and torn down for McDonogh 35.
Benjamin Franklin was a slave owner turned abolitionist and because of his past slave holdings, the NOLA-Public Schools Renaming Committee said the Elementary and High school named after him will be renamed.
Some in the community are questioning whether Franklin’s name is tarnished.
Walter Isaacson, an author and Tulane history professor, published an op-ed in The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate detailing his opposition to the name change. “We should celebrate those who realize our nation’s flaws, confront them honestly, and publicly take the lead in making themselves and our union more perfect,” Isaacson wrote in the guest column.
Graduate student Madeline Zehnder wrote a letter to the editor in response to Isaacson. Zehnder questions if Franklin deserves to be celebrated for understanding structural inequality.
“Why do we have two schools named after a man who never visited New Orleans, while we have had no school named after Sylvanie Williams, a Black organizer and educator who founded a medical clinic and fought for children and working women in early 20-century New Orleans?” Zehnder wrote.
President Andrew Jackson was a wealthy Tennessee slave owner, who at his death, owned 161 slaves. Jackson also signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which began the Trail of Tears for indigenous peoples.
Justice Ortique was a civil rights lawyer who became the first African-American justice elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Marquis de Lafayette
Leah L. Chase, known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, is the top pick to replace Marquis de Lafayette on the Lafayette Academy.
Lafayette Academy hasn’t been housed in the Forshey Street building since 2018 due to construction and asbestos removal in the building.
Marquis de Lafayette initially owned slaves but became an abolitionist and worked with George Washington to create a gradual emancipation plan.
Chase turned the Dooky Chase Restaurant into a fine dining experience for African Americans in the city. During the the era of enforced segregation, Black and White activists met at Dooky Chase’s to strategize about moving along the civil rights cause.
Robert Mills Lusher
Dr. Everett J. Williams Jr., the first Black superintendent of New Orleans schools, was proposed to replace Robert Mills Lusher on the building currently occupied the Lusher Charter elementary school.
Robert Mills Lusher was a Confederate tax collector and segregationist. Lusher was the superintendent of Education in 1865, but his term was cut short after he declined to oversee schools that served both races.
Williams started his education career as an English teacher at Walter L. Cohen Senior High School. Williams later served as assistant principal at McDonogh 35 Senior High School and as principal at Carter G. Woodson Jr. High School.
Williams started to lead the school system in 1985 and is credited with establishing the public school system’s magnet school component, implementing in-school day-care programs for teenage mothers and creating awards programs that allowed superintendents to recognize the academic achievements of public school scholars.
Sophie B. Wright
The name Lewis proposed to replace Sophie B. Wright is Judge James Skelly Wright.
Sophie B. Wright was a white supremacist and supporter of the “Lost Cause” movement to promote a white-supremacist narrative of the Confederacy as heroic.
As a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Wright helped to enforce the desegregation of public facilities in New Orleans, including the Orleans Parish Public Schools.
As a result of his rulings, Wright suffered cross burnings on his lawn and anonymous death threats that caused him to have to have 24-hour protection by U.S. marshals.
One of Wright’s last acts as a district court judge was an unsuccessful attempt to desegregate Tulane University in 1962.
The administration welcomes public feedback on the proposed list through July 29. Feedback can be provided here, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and during the OPSB’s board meeting to vote on the final names on July 29.
Domonique Tolliver is a journalism student at Loyola University and a reporting intern at NOLA Messenger. She can be reached at email@example.com.