FARGO — The Fargo School Board unanimously agreed to rescind the name of Woodrow Wilson High School Tuesday, Oct. 13, following the recommendation of a district committee that found the community favored dropping the name.
Board member Nikkie Gullickson, also the chair of the Communications, Engagement and Advocacy Committee that was responsible for creating district regulations for renaming schools, proposed the former president’s name be dropped so that the search for a new name can begin.
Board member David Paulson was originally not in favor of rescinding the name, but voted in favor.
“My problem is I don’t know what we’re starting by rescinding this name,” Paulson said. “Is this going to be a snowball effect where all of the sudden we’re going to see Madison (renamed) because he did nothing to stop slavery?”
“Nobody is entirely good and nobody is entirely bad,” he said. “I’m having a very difficult time renaming Woodrow Wilson at this time based on what we’ve heard so far.”
Other board members were quick to address his concerns.
“It is not an attempt to erase history. History is recorded and history remains,” said Rebecca Knutson, board president, adding that when time shifts and society progresses, it is sometimes appropriate to rename buildings.
Forum columnist Jim Shaw started the process of changing the school’s name three years ago with an editorial after watching a PBS documentary on the former president, he said. Since then, the road to change has been frustrating, but he’s pleased with the outcome.
“It has been a very long three-year effort, and there were times where it was very discouraging, but I was very pleased to see that a lot of other people got on board with this, a wide variety of people: people of color, former students, religious leaders, members of the Fargo Human Relations Commission, local school board members and a local historian, and they were as passionate about it as a I am,” Shaw said.
“It sends a strong message against racism and in favor of racial inclusion and racial equality. I really feel good for the people of color who were so uncomfortable with the name of that school,” Shaw said. “I’m just happy that the school district recognized how important this issue is, especially at this time in our country where we are coming to grips with the enormous history of racism that caused people their jobs or their lives, and realizing that a man like Woodrow Wilson is not worthy of having a school named after him. This is a real victory for the entire community.”
The Fargo School Board will use a newly created policy to rename the high school, located at 1305 9th Ave. S., Superintendent Rupak Gandhi said in September. A time period to allow for more public input on the name change is expected.