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Proposed Jefferson School Renaming Continues To Spark Debate in Peoria

The proposed renaming of Thomas Jefferson Primary School after the late civil rights leader C.T. Vivian continues to evoke strong reactions in Peoria.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday night, former ACLU Peoria Chapter president Spanky Edwards said Jefferson was a hypocrite, writing that all men are created equal in the Declaration of Independence despite being a slaveholder himself.

"In 2021, with what is going on around the entire world, and what is happening in America, C.T. Vivian is a 10 times better -- 100 times better -- candidate to have a honor of a school named after him than a deplorable president who owned slaves and raped slaves," Edwards said.

Vivian grew up in Macomb and lived in Peoria in the 1940s. He led local desegregation efforts while living in Peoria, before later moving south.

Former teacher's union president and frequent school board meeting commentator Terry Knapp said the renamings of Jefferson and five other schools amounted to "cancel culture."

"This is not going to heal what we need to heal. We need to get on with education. We're in a deplorable situation," Knapp said.

Incoming school board member Mike Murphy suggested instead numbering schools or naming them after trees, instead of renaming them after people.

"If we are in fact going to be renaming schools, that we simply do it, and stop naming them after people, because unfortunately, I feel like you'll always find someone who can or will find something offensive about something else," Murphy said.

But former board member Ernestine Jackson said the renaming is needed to show Black students they are not inferior to anyone else.

"This is not about just renaming schools," Jackson said. "We have not taught history like it should have been taught in the first place. And that is to explain to our children what their forefathers went through with a lot of the people these schools are named after."

 A motion to rename the school after Vivian was tabled earlier this month on a technicality.

No action was taken at the town hall meeting. Board member Dan Walther said the town hall feedback will be compiled into a report to be presented at the next full school board meeting.

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