School & District Management

‘No Great Option': Why a School District Named After a KKK Leader Is Keeping Its Name

By Tim Hrenchir, The Topeka Capital-Journal — November 09, 2021 6 min read
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The Board of Education for Seaman USD 345 on Monday evening unanimously approved a resolution disavowing all associations with district namesake Fred A. Seaman, who was a Ku Klux Klan leader, but not doing away with the Seaman name.

“From this point forward, the district and its buildings shall be associated with the Seaman community and its long and proud history that have developed over the past 100-plus years, not the individual who initially founded the high school,” the measure says.

It also:

  • Condemns Fred A. Seaman’s racist beliefs, actions and conduct in regard to his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan as being “revolting” and “vile,” having “no place in civilized society” and being “contrary to those who live, work and go to school in Seaman USD 345.”
  • Mandates that “all references to Fred A. Seaman, including his image and likeness, shall be removed and permanently banned from all district buildings.”
  • Makes one exception to that by calling for the high school student museum class to be encouraged to create an exhibit in the museum “that focuses on Fred A. Seaman’s repulsive involvement and association with the Ku Klux Klan.”

The measure adds, “Fred A. Seaman’s repugnant participation with the Ku Klux Klan should not be allowed to disappear into history.”

‘A relatively good option’

Board members Keith Griffin, Cherie Sage, Michelle Caudill, Frank Henderson, Kyle McNorton, James Adams and Christy Weiler voted 7-0 to approve the measure.

The vote came six days after Sage and Griffin lost their seats in last week’s general election to Donna J. McGinty and Chris Travis, who both support keeping the Seaman name. McGinty and Travis are to take office Jan. 10.

Griffin, who is board president, put forth the proposal approved Monday.

The stress on the community, the students, the administration, the school board, all of us, is just phenomenal.

He said it was an alternative to the two previous options being considered of keeping the name or getting rid of it.

Adams said he hoped people would see the proposal as being “a relatively good option” at a time when no “great options” are available.

“Somebody’s going to get mad at anything we do,” Adams said.

‘Hardest thing I’ve ever been a part of’

Monday’s vote appeared to end 13 months of often-contentious debate, which divided the Seaman community over the topic involved.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he sought middle ground on the name change issue after participants in an Oct. 25 community workshop held by the district found themselves with only two options, which were to keep the Seaman name or do away with it.

Griffin said he came away from that workshop asking “What is Option C?”

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is my Option C,” he said in putting forth his proposal Monday evening.

Caudill said she was glad to see a third option become available after more than a year that had been “heart-breaking,” “heart-wrenching” and “devastating.”

“The stress on the community, the students, the administration, the school board, all of us, is just phenomenal,” she said.

Keeping a legacy alive

Sage said she thought Griffin’s proposal was “very well thought out and laid out, and for the betterment of the school district and for the community.”

McNorton said he was glad the Seaman district would keep its legacy alive.

“We have a great school, we’re a great community,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep that growing and going forward. And it’s a shame that this has really divided a lot of people over something, to me, that is pretty petty. I mean, it (the name) has been here for 100 years and all of a sudden it’s an issue now.”

Henderson, the board’s only Black member, who has lived in the Seaman district almost 35 years, said he didn’t believe it when his children, who were then in high school, told him Fred A. Seaman was a Klansman.

But Henderson said it became clear last year that Seaman was not only a Klansman, but an exalted cyclops in that organization.

“Everybody in this room should agree that that’s not in step with what we want to believe,” he said.

Henderson expressed disappointment that some members of the Seaman community in recent months had “attacked” students who advocated changing the district’s name.

“I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

Henderson described Monday’s vote as being “a step that can bring people together, because we want to be a community that supports our students.”

McNorton asked if further wording needed to be added to the measure to expressly say that the Seaman name was being kept.

Griffin said he thought the resolution spoke to that.

McNorton was then told that the word “Seaman” is not part of the legal name of the district.

‘Larger than one person’

After Monday’s vote, Griffin read a statement to those present.

“The action taken by this board tonight is an incremental step towards removing racism in our district,” he said. “By separating from Fred A. Seaman, this board is supporting that our community is larger than one person, and does not support or uphold the actions of Fred A Seaman.”

Monday’s vote “effectively removes all ties to Fred A. Seaman in name and association,” Griffin said.

“We stand united with our community in striking down racism in any form and recognize the name ‘Seaman’ is synonymous with our community,” he said. “Unity, equality and equity are baselines for this community. We can do better. We must do better. And together, we will do better.”

District’s history, future both important

The resolution approved Monday represents USD 345’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion, said Superintendent Steve Noble.

“This has been an intense topic with preserving history on one side and providing a healthy learning environment for all on the other,” he said. “I have found both sides to be compelling, but I find our students, who have experienced bullying and racism, to be most compelling.”

The resolution describes USD 345 as being “an increasingly diverse school district that values and supports the personal identities of all of our school students and staff, while acknowledging that more work must be done to address the issues of racism and bullying that negatively affect the educational experiences of some students and staff.”

USD 345 is against racism and all types of bullying, and strives for an inclusive environment for everyone, Noble said.

“Those issues deserve our full attention right now and I am hopeful that our community can support and actively embrace that work,” he said. “As I have stated before, our history is important and so is our future.”

Rally preceded Monday board meeting

All available seats were filled for Monday evening’s meeting in the Seaman Education Center at 901 N.W. Lyman Road.

About 35 people rallied outside prior to the meeting in support of changing the district’s name. Most rally-goers carried signs. Many were students.

Our history is important and so is our future.

The Seaman board has been under public pressure to consider changing its name since an October 2020 report from Seaman High student journalists Tristan Fangman and Madeline Gearhart confirmed Fred A. Seaman’s connection to the Klan.

Seaman became Seaman High School’s first principal when it opened in 1920.

The USD 345 board last March formed a nine-person namesake committee, which put out a report Oct. 11 that shared considerable information but didn’t address whether the district should change its name.

Each namesake committee member then chose three people to serve on a namesake advisory committee, for which members discussed the issues involved in an Oct. 25 workshop.

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Copyright (c) 2021, The Topeka Capital-Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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