Election Section

Letters to the Editor: Jefferson Name-Change

Tuesday June 28, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

As if the whole Jefferson name change episode weren't depressing enough, “We Shall Overcome” was reportedly appropriated and sung by the name-change proponents at the school board meeting, thus making the song, which many of us once sang together at Jefferson and in places and times long ago, the equivalent of a flag lapel pin.  

James Day 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s no wonder that people on both sides of the Jefferson school naming issue feel wronged and frustrated. It’s an uniquely American paradox that Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers of our free society were also participants in the enslavement of people. Whether or not the school ultimately remains as Jefferson, we will continue to have to deal with this conundrum. 

Therefore, a modest proposal: That the students, teachers, and parents of Jefferson engage in a joint project to create a permanent school display examining the role of Jefferson in American history. His unique achievements can be displayed alongside his record as a holder of slaves. Such a project would do much to further the discourse about our country’s past, a discourse which seems to have deteriorated in the process of the proposed renaming of the school. Don’t we owe it to the school’s future students to show them the truth of Jefferson’s legacy, the good and the bad, rather than to choose between ignoring it or sweeping it aside? 

Winthrop E. Jordan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is shame that people of the U.S. are indulging themselves in petty issues such as the trial of Michael Jackson. It is even worse that people of Berkeley are debating for months as to whether change the name of Jefferson School. I believe that we should not punish people such as Jefferson who belong to history. However, we can learn from history in order not to repeat past mistakes. At a time when a sad history is being made by the criminal acts of George Bush and his gang in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at a time when everyone should seek the impeachment of such war criminals, the great people of Berkeley debate at length as to whether to change the name of a school. Almost no one is talking about the Downing Street Memo or the U.S. atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a shame. 

People of the U.S. are complicit with the war crimes being committed by their ruling regime in the White House. They are either ignorant of such crimes, or they choose to remain ignorant by indulging themselves in debating on petty issues such as the name of Jefferson School, Michael Jackson trial, etc. 

Ajit Indrajit 

Mumbai, India 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So they will keep the name Jefferson after all. Let’s use the opportunity to teach history to the students of that school. 

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was a man in conflict. He hated slavery, and said so many times, yet he owned slaves and refused to free them. He once said he knew right from wrong, but that did not stop him from doing what he knew was wrong, for his own personal comfort and convenience. 

Jefferson was not the only slave owner who knew slavery was wrong. But slave owners were locked into the system. The southern states had large farms, called plantations. These required constant tending by unskilled labor, slaves. The owners, including Jefferson, were convinced that if they had to give up slaves, they faced economic ruin. 

The northern states had small farms and small shops with artisans. They were afraid that slavery, with its cheap labor, would take their farms and their businesses. Most immigrants settled in the north, with small farms or low-paying jobs. They feared slaves would take away their jobs. All faced economic ruin from slavery. Thus the division, which got worse until in 1861 it erupted into open warfare. 

What better way to teach the history of the first 80 years of our country, and the conflict which in some ways continues to this day? This might be three or four one-hour lectures once a week at—where else?—Jefferson School. 

Alfred Hexter 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley School Board members did the right thing by voting to retain the name Jefferson. The two main arguments presented for changing the name of the school were wrong. 

The attempt to judge people of the past by the standards of today is a weak argument. It was divisive and counter productive. It was correctly observed that the African American community would be better served by directing their energy towards a real effort to educate and raise the black students appallingly low test scores. 

The second argument from the anti-Jefferson group was even weaker. They tried to say that they were being denied justice on the grounds that a Democratic process had been followed and the out come of the vote by the small “Jefferson school community” should be rubber stamped by the School Board. That argument was embraced by members Selawsky and Dornan as their sole reason for agreeing to the name change. This was a total cop out. 

Boardmember Rivera, in his thoughtful, powerful, eloquent and well reasoned explanation of his no vote, clearly pointed out that the first part of the process ended when the Berkeley School Board received the petition for name change. The public hearings and the board’s vote were the next step in the process.  

Indeed, it was the anti-Jefferson group which wanted to limit participation and the input of information in this very important democratic process. I am sure that the young, impressionable and captive students (or parents and teachers for that matter) never discussed anything about blacks who owned slaves or Indians who owned slaves or the fact that you can go to Africa today and buy a slave. They were not told that the City of Berkeley is named after a slave owner. 

Board members Issel, Rivera and Riddle acted bravely and did the right thing. Their reasoning was sound. But most of all they did the right thing by truly making it a Democratic process. They included the larger community who, obviously, felt that the name change affected them and wanted to be heard. 

Thomas Jefferson told us that we must guard against ignorance to remain free and that it is the responsibility of every American to be informed. No one can argue against those words. 

Michael Larrick›