The Manatee County Florida School Board may make history by becoming one of the first, and perhaps only, public entity in modern times to name a school after a slaveowner.
We are familiar with the controversies and protests calling for the removal of confederate monuments and memorials in Charlottesville, Dallas, Memphis, Baltimore, the University of North Carolina and other cities.
In communities across the country, mostly in states of the old Confederacy, officials continue to deal with the issue of what to do about names of buildings, streets, and schools that many believe commemorate the legacy of slavery, are offensive to black Americans and, therefore, politically incorrect.
Such concerns are not unique to blacks or the South. The president of Notre Dame University, Rev. John Jenkins, announced in a letter that the university plans to cover up murals on its campus that depict Christopher Columbus, saying that for Native Americans, his arrival in America "was nothing short of a catastrophe."
Regarding blacks and symbols of the Confederacy and slavery, the argument has revolved around removing such symbols, not creating new ones — until now!
Residents of Parrish, Florida, a small town in Manatee County, which borders Sarasota and the beautiful beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast, are asking the county school board to name a new high school after Crawford Parrish, one of the original settlers of the community which bears his family’s name.
Parrish came from Hamilton County, Florida in 1868 — after the Civil War and the end of slavery.
In terms of the name change, there is one big issue.
As outlined in an article in Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune, Hamilton County Tax Books of 1850 and 1860 show that Parrish owned 19 and 32 slaves, respectively. Parrish died in 1899 and did not own any slaves while living in what became Parrish. Slavery had ended.
The Parrish's were prominent residents with one son — Crawford P. — becoming a member of the state legislature and another — John — donating land that later was later named the “Parrish” Train Station.
Eventually, the community was named “Parrish” — which, according to a 1918 Tampa Tribune report quoted in the above referenced Herald-Tribune — was named for the elder Parrish’s son John.
In 2017, the Manatee County School Board voted 5-0 to build a new $90 plus million high school in Parrish and named it “North River High School.”
As noted in the Herald Tribune article, this upset many Parrish residents. The Parrish Civic Association and other residents called upon the Board to change the name of the school to “Parrish High School” after the city it will be built in.
Because of the protests and demands by Parrish residents, last August the School Board voted 3-2 to initiate a 6 month name change period as per Board policy before changing a school name. The board can vote to rename the school in February if it so chooses. The school is scheduled to open in August of this year.
The two members opposing the name change were then-Chairman Scott Hopes and John Colon, the board’s only black member.
In the primary election the following week, Hopes was forced into a run-off which he eventually won in November to return to the board. Colon lost outright to a practicing minister and attorney who is also black.
The board is now accepting nominations for a new name.
The process will culminate in a Public Hearing to be held during the Tuesday, February 26, 2019, board meeting when members could select a new name for the high school.
It is noteworthy that the issue has not sparked any significant negative reaction or protests from other area residents whom the school would serve or from the black community.
The Herald-Tribune article noted that the president of the local NAACP, Rodney Jones, had spoken against renaming the school the prior week and “had major concerns over naming a school after Crawford Parrish…”
He did not attend the meeting the following week where the board voted 3-2 to initiate the six-month name change process.
Advocates of the name change will probably remind their opponents that many of the founders of our nation were slaveowners, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the first president George Washington — which did not take away from their contributions to the country.
Furthermore, the images of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin, appear on our currency — the $1, $2, $10, and $100 bills respectively.
They might argue that, notwithstanding the slaveholder status — which Parrish did not have when he settled in the city — his family’s contribution to the community now called Parrish greatly outweigh his prior slaveholder status.
Those on the other side might contend that they must take a stand against what they regard as a monument to the darker side of the state’s and nation’s history.
Which side will prevail will be determined at the February 26 Manatee County School Board meeting.
The question is whether supporters of the name change will garner enough support to have the board change the “North River High School” name.
If they do, the “Parrish High School” advocates will likely prevail and the board will rename the school — a major rejection of political correctness!
Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political, and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as in the Reagan presidential campaigns. He is a former co-owner of WTVT-TV in Tampa and former president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.
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