Salt Lake area school seeks distance from its controversial namesake

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

People stand outside Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Members of the school’s community are seeking recommendations for a new name in order to distance themselves from the school’s namesake, President Andrew Jackson.

SALT LAKE CITY — Long before national tensions flared this summer over statues honoring Civil War figures, a Salt Lake school quietly decided to distance itself from fiery 19th century President Andrew Jackson.

But at a meeting Wednesday to discuss the next steps for deciding a new name for the elementary school in the Fairpark neighborhood, administrators faced questions about the need for a name change in the first place.

“The single biggest thing that he did was in defeating the British, and had he not done that, we would probably still be under a very oppressive tyrannical government,” longtime resident Russell Jacobsen said during the meeting at Jackson Elementary School.

Jacobsen called the seventh president of the U.S. instrumental in continued American independence through victories during the War of 1812.

Jackson Elementary Principal Jana Edward said the decision to revisit the school’s name started more than a year ago when the school’s community council and other parent organizations asked for clarification on who the school was named after. Research showed the school was, in fact, dedicated to Andrew Jackson since it was established in 1892.

On a webpage detailing the school’s request for a name change, Jackson is described as instrumental in the Indian Removal Act and ensuing “Trail of Tears,” where thousands of Native Americans were forced to relocate to lands west of the Mississippi River. It also says Jackson’s “rags-to-riches” rise to military and political fortune “was accumulated through the buying and selling of slaves.”

Edward said feedback from the community showed about 70 percent of 150 respondents favored a name change.

According to the most recent demographic reports, Jackson Elementary School’s student body is more than 70 percent Hispanic, 4.5 percent African-American…

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