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It’s Official: Introducing Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School

The school website has been updated with the new name.

Following calls for a new name stretching back several years, students and staff petitioned Portland Public Schools last spring to change the name of Woodrow Wilson High School. A renaming committee of students, staff, and community members was formed to develop a list of replacements and conduct community outreach. On January 26, the committee presented their pick to the Portland Public Schools’ Board of Education, who unanimously approved the choice and officially renamed the school Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School.

In their proposal to the School Board, the renaming committee said this about Wells-Barnett’s suitably as namesake for the school: “Remembered as one of the most lauded civil rights advocates of the 19th and 20th centuries, Wells-Barnett is an American hero. Ida B. Wells-Barnett will foster a lasting message of determination, valor, and tolerance among all students and staff.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett.

A journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in 1862. During her lifetime she was a writer, educator who launched campaigns against lynching and for the right to vote for women as well as for equal rights for women and Black Americans. In 2020 she was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Special Citation for “outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.” She died in 1931.

Five finalists were identified. A survey conducted to choose just one generated 1370 responses. Here are a few of the comments in favor of the selection of Wells-Barnett:

“She represents everything we are striving to become—open, accepting, and fighting for a better, more equal world, through educating ourselves and persevering no matter what obstacles the world throws at us. As a current Wilson student, I would be honored to have Ida B. Wells represent my school!” (student)

“I think people would love to walk into the doors of Ida B. Wells High School.” (student)

“[Ida B. Wells-Barnett] is a remarkable and important early Black, female activist, and her belief in the importance of education is a no-brainer when considering someone to associate with a high school.” (alumni)

Following the decision by the School Board, Principal Felip Hristiç commented on usage of the new name in a post on the school’s website. Too often we forget the people we’ve taken as namesakes, said Hristiç, citing as examples streets (Barbur Blvd), cities (Astoria), and yes, schools (Benson High School). “To make sure that our namesake is not lost,” Hristiç suggests the following guidelines:

Official name: Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School

Shorter alternative name: Ida B. Wells High School

Abbreviation, to be used only when necessary: IBW

What’s Next?

The school website has been updated to reflect the new name—that’s the easy part. Still to come is a “rebranding” process to replace the Wilson name on the main building, stadium concession stand and scoreboard, and marquee reader boards on Vermont and Capitol Hwy. Not to mention athletic uniforms for track, tennis, football, softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, etc. Athletic Director Mike Nolan says athletics budgets are being prepared for the district and then the exciting work on rebranding can get started, with design help from Nike.

Photo credits: Craig Smith (scoreboard); Hillsdale News (marquee reader board); Ed Devereaux (soccer) ; Elena Miller (lacrosse and field house).

Yet to be decided is the fate of the school mascot, the Trojan, and whether a new symbol will be selected.

The new name confronts alumni of the school with a choice: do they now refer to themselves as graduates of Wilson? Wells? Wilson-Wells? Wells-was-Wilson? Certainly a Facebook debate is brewing.

—Valeurie Friedman


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