School & District Management

Pa. Board Divided Over Naming School for Rustin

By Catherine Gewertz — December 11, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

So proudly did West Chester, Pa., claim the civil rights luminary Bayard Rustin as its most famous native son that the school board decided to name its new high school after him.

But that was before they found out that the late Mr. Rustin was gay, had belonged to a Communist group, and had refused to serve in World War II.

Now, the board is rethinking its decision, sparking a debate that is drawing national—and unwelcome—publicity.

“It’s embarrassing that this is even happening,” said Stephen Sander, a retired teacher in the Philadelphia suburb who supports naming the school after Mr. Rustin. “It makes us look like 1950 all over again. [Mr. Rustin] is only controversial to bigots. To everyone else, he’s an American hero.”

The board was expected to decide the issue by the end of January.

Born in 1912, Mr. Rustin attended West Chester schools. A Quaker, his pacifist beliefs led him to refuse to register for World War II or to perform alternative service, a move that put him behind bars for 28 months. He went on to work extensively in the civil rights movement, perhaps most notably as the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, during which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. Rustin died in 1987.

June L. Cardosi, a board member for the 12,000-student West Chester district, noted that the city already has a park named after Mr. Rustin. She and others oppose naming the high school after him mostly because of his anti- war efforts. That work, combined with his homosexuality and his four-year membership in the Young Communist League, makes him an inappropriate role model for teenagers, she said.

“We acknowledge that he made valuable inroads in the civil rights area, but we are more concerned with his personal characteristics,” Ms. Cardosi said.

Officials of civil rights and gay-support groups lamented the dispute.

‘In the Best Tradition’

“What kind of message does this send to young people: that such an important figure in the civil-rights movement is not worthy of our respect because he’s a gay man?” said Eliza Byard, the deputy executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a national group based in New York City.

Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League, also based in New York, said that Mr. Rustin and others who experienced oppression in America had looked to Communism for the freedom that eluded them at home. And Mr. Rustin’s anti-war activities represented not an act of disloyalty, Mr. Price said, but a commitment to nonviolence.

“What he stood for—tolerance, civil rights, justice, and political activism—is in the best tradition of America,” Mr. Price said. “His hometown should not only name a school after him, but they probably ought to have a [high school social studies] course built around his life.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 11, 2002 edition of Education Week as Pa. Board Divided Over Naming School for Rustin

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Centering the Whole Child in School Improvement Planning and Redesign
Learn how leading with equity and empathy yield improved sense of belonging, attendance, and promotion rate to 10th grade.

Content provided by Panorama
Teaching Profession Webinar Examining the Evidence: Supports to Promote Teacher Well-Being
Rates of work dissatisfaction are on the rise among teachers. Grappling with an increased workload due to the pandemic and additional stressors have exacerbated feelings of burnout and demoralization. Given these challenges, what can the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management New Survey: How the Pandemic Has Made School Leadership More Stressful
Secondary school principals have reported frequent job-related stress, especially concerns about staff and student well-being.
6 min read
Illustration of figure at the center of many incoming arrows
nerosu/iStock/Getty Images
School & District Management From Principals, a Primer on Delivering Bad News
COVID and the upheavals of the last two years have raised the ante on often-emotional conversations with staff and parents.
9 min read
Conceptual image of balanced weighing the pros and cons.
Cagkan Sayin/iStock
School & District Management Opinion If You Can’t Maintain an Initiative, Maybe You Shouldn’t Do It
Schools are often really good at finding new initiatives to implement but aren't always good at maintaining. Here's a model to consider.
5 min read
Screen Shot 2022 01 21 at 7.57.56 AM
Shutterstock
School & District Management Schools Are Desperate for Substitutes and Getting Creative
Now in the substitute-teacher pool: parents, college students, and the National Guard.
10 min read
Zackery Kimball, a substitute teacher at Bailey Middle School, works with two classes of students at the school's theater hall on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in Las Vegas. Many schools have vacant teaching and/or support staff jobs and no available substitutes to cover day-to-day absences.
Zackery Kimball, a substitute teacher at Bailey Middle School in Las Vegas, works with two classes of students at the school's theater hall on a Friday in December 2021.
Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP