The Madison School Board unanimously voted Monday night to rename Jefferson Middle School after 19th-century Black voting rights activist Ezekiel Gillespie.
A survey of about half of the school’s students showed a preference to replace President Thomas Jefferson’s name with writer Maya Angelou, the other finalist whittled down by an ad hoc committee in recent months. But the board ultimately decided to go with Gillespie, largely because of his role in securing voting rights for Black people in Wisconsin.
Board President Ali Muldrow acknowledged the vote of students at the school at Monday night’s School Board meeting, saying that “in middle school the desire to be self-determined is pretty profound.”
“To have two people who had a significant impact on Black history, to choose between them is deeply challenging,” Muldrow said.
Board member Savion Castro, like his colleagues, suggested he greatly appreciated the student voice in the survey, but acknowledged that Gillespie’s contribution is not well-known. He added that he was glad Jefferson, the third president of the United States and slaveholder, would no longer be recognized in this way.
The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”
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