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Philip Sheridan Elementary in Kensington is set to be renamed in honor of Gloria Casarez. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.
Philip Sheridan Elementary in Kensington is set to be renamed in honor of Gloria Casarez. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.

Two more Philly schools set for new names, dropping racist historical figures

Philip H. Sheridan Elementary and Woodrow Wilson Middle School are awaiting school board approvals, expected next month.

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In the years following the murder of George Floyd, the nation has been undergoing a racial reckoning, compelling many city and suburban school boards to rebrand and move away from commemorating racist legacies. 

For instance, two more Philadelphia schools recently announced that they are officially letting go of namesakes that honor historical figures who contributed to the oppression of people of color.

Kensington’s Philip H. Sheridan Elementary was named after one of the most famous Union generals of the Civil War, who is most well-known for overseeing brutal campaigns against Native Americans.

Sheridan was notorious for using ruthless tactics against Indigenous people, attacking them in their encampments during the winter, forcing them onto reservations, and undercutting their food supply by attacking their crops and urging the widespread hunting of animals such as bison and buffalo.

Sheridan’s post-Civil War career of brutalizing Native Americans throughout western territories is infamously captured by one of his quotes, “the only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”

Parents, students, and staff from Philip H. Sheridan Elementary unveiled the community election results on the potential name change, announcing that the school will now be called Gloria Casarez Elementary School. 

“We were looking to find a name that represented our school and the goal of inclusion,” Sheridan’s assistant principal Julio Nunez told KYW Newsradio.

Gloria Casarez was the City of Philadelphia’s first director of LGBT affairs, appointed in 2008. During her tenure, Philly adopted the broadest LGBT rights protection in the country and became ranked as the number one city nationwide for LGBT equality. 

“It was 46% of the vote in favor of her. There were three other candidates on the ballot. The community voted, selected that name. And we’re very proud that now we stand with her for inclusion as well, as we move forward,” Nunez said.

Meanwhile, in Northeast Philadelphia, the community at Woodrow Wilson Middle School on Cottman Avenue, has decided to move away from associating with former president Woodrow Wilson. 

On Tuesday, May 24, the community announced that the school will be renamed as Castor Gardens. 

Chelsea Maher, an eighth-grade teacher and member of the renaming committee, said that the name change was recommended due to the former president’s alleged connection with the Klu Klux Klan and re-segregation of the federal workforce.

Regarding the former connection, Wilson held a White House screening of The Birth of a Nation in February 1915, which dramatized the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan beginning with President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Maher told Northeast Times that the name changing process began in November 2020, and four names were chosen as potential replacements. 

Besides Castor Gardens, the other choices were three prominent Black women in history: Caroline LeCount, a Philly principal and civil rights advocate, Ida B. Wells, journalist and civil rights activists who helped found the NAACP, and Nellie Rathbone Bright, a Philly principal and co-editor of literary magazine. 

The Gloria Casarez and Castor Gardens names will now go to the Philadelphia school board for final approval next month.

Other area schools have also chosen to move away from namesakes with racist histories. In 2021, Andrew Jackson School changed its name to Fanny Jackson Coppin Elementary. 

Next year, Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden is scheduled to rename itself to Eastside High School. 

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