As Ben Shapiro quipped, the revolution always eats its own. An effort by Waukegan’s school district to remove the name of Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson from its middle school ran into opposition two weeks ago when the names of Barack and Michelle Obama were offered as a replacement. That prompted outrage from the city’s Latino community, which argued that Obama’s policies on enforcing the law on the border and deporting illegals was itself racist. “Obama is another oppressor,” one activist declared, and others called Obama the “deporter in chief” in objecting to the proposal.
Last night, the board officially removed the Obamas from contention over the controversy, choosing John Lewis for the honor instead:
The school at 600 S. Lewis Ave. in Waukegan is now called Thomas Jefferson Middle School. But Jefferson was a slaveholder, and the Waukegan School Board saw fit to remove the third president’s name from the building.
“One way to address is when you have a name on the building that represents that same racism that we’re talking about, that you all thought it was necessary to support the cause of changing that name,” one man said at the meeting. “I think it’s very important.”
Yet when President Obama’s name came up, it was met with opposition. Some in the community felt the 44th president did not do enough for the Latinx community while in office.
Newsweek picks it up from there:
The Obamas were among the top three choices to replace Jefferson in the school’s name. The board of education met to discuss the issue on March 30 and heard strong arguments against honoring the former president, the first African American to hold the office.
“I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community,” said Edgar Castellanos, a District 60 school board member who said he came to the U.S. as an undocumented child.
Julie Contreras, a Waukegan activist who works with an organization that runs shelters for undocumented children along the southern border, also spoke against honoring the Obamas.
“We feel that Barack Obama did disservice to us. He denied us, and he didn’t stop the deportations, the way he promised,” Contreras said.
Immigration advocacy groups branded Obama “deporter in chief” when he ran for re-election in 2012, according to CNN. The administration deported 5 million undocumented migrants during his eight years in office, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute.
The Obamas had their defenders at the meeting too. One woman argued — ironically — that people need to appreciate their overall contribution to American society rather than focus on one shortcoming:
“I did some research on African-American inventors. Madam Walker – she’s a self-made millionaire. She invented the hairbrush,” one man said.
A woman fired back at that suggestion: “So please don’t teach us about Black history by reading by reading five, six names. Madam C.J. Walker did a nice thing doing hair. but Barack Obama did a lot of things to save people lives.”
One could make the same argument about Jefferson, albeit a bit further along the spectrum. He owned slaves at a time when slavery was more of a global norm but people were already arguing for abolition. However, Jefferson’s words and deeds set the stage for abolition by clearly identifying the underlying right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” married to James Madison’s exhortation that “all men are created equal.”
In the end, however, few could find fault with the choice of John Lewis. Regardless of what one thinks of his policy preferences, Lewis was a genuine civil-rights movement hero. His bravery in the face of oppression will be a genuine inspiration to the children who attend this middle school. However, one has to wonder how long it will take before Lewis himself gets milkshake-ducked.