Names of Woodrow Wilson High, Agassiz building could change because of racist views

Agassiz Woodrow Wilson High School in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Robin Nelson, president of the Fargo School Board, says she plans to propose changing the names of the Agassiz building and Woodrow Wilson High School. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — As statues commemorating controversial historical figures topple across the nation, there's an effort afoot here to change the names of Woodrow Wilson High School and the Agassiz school building.

Robin Nelson, president of the Fargo School Board, says she plans to bring a proposal to the governance committee toward the end of July in support of changing both names.

“They could very well choose to forward the conversation to the board level. If the board does want to analyze either of the name changes, I think not only will it be a tremendous learning experience for myself as a board member, but for the community as well,” Nelson said.

Woodrow Wilson High School is an alternative school named after the 28th president. Woodrow Wilson students attend classes in the Agassiz building at 1305 9th Ave. S. The future of the Agassiz building is uncertain. It has significant plumbing issues, and officials are considering putting it up for sale.

Because of Wilson's controversial legacy, Princeton University reported this week it will remove Wilson’s name from its school of public policy and change the name to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, according to CNN.


Jim Shaw, a Forum columnist, wrote on July 4 that “it’s Fargo’s turn” to right racial wrongs.

“African Americans had been working alongside white Americans in federal offices for decades when Wilson became president in 1913,” Shaw wrote. “Wilson changed that …. African Americans now had to work in screened-off work areas. Some black employees were put in cages to work. Those black workers were also no longer allowed to eat in the same lunchrooms as white workers or use the same bathrooms.”

The Woodrow Wilson High School building on North University Drive was built in 1917. The school district sold the building in 2012, and it became an apartment complex.

According to the 1917 Board of Education minutes, Woodrow Wilson was originally called Longfellow School. After the public was given a list of new names to choose from that included Gen. Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain and Ralph Emerson, Wilson’s name took first place with 87 out of 146 votes.

The Agassiz school building, built in 1912, is named after 19th century Swiss scientist Louis Agassiz. Glacial Lake Agassiz that once covered the Fargo-Moorhead area is named after him as are numerous entities in the region.

The Agassiz name was scrapped last month from the Agassiz Greenway project in the Fargo area after officials heard from people pointing out Agassiz's views on race and his writings regarding white supremacy.

Nelson remembers hearing “some rumblings in the past” about name changes for the buildings. “But things are being brought to light now more than I expected,” she said.

If name changes are to go forward, however, “what must be included in considerations is the students who currently attend those facilities and the alumni. That piece is very important to me,” Nelson said.


Agassiz Louis
Louis Agassiz, a 19th century scientist, had his name given to an ancient glacial lake that once covered what is now the Red River Valley. Growing awareness of Agassiz's views on race is prompting reflection about the widespread use of his name for naming places and organizations across the region. Special to The Forum

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