Students at Southwest Side high school push CPS to dump name of slaveholder John Hancock

Students at Southwest Side high school push CPS to dump name of slaveholder John Hancock

Andrea Castillo, 16, who is a member of the Social Justice Club at Hancock High School, is among students calling for a new name for the Southwest Side school. | Mengshin Lin / Sun-Times

‘Is that who we represent — a privileged man who owned other human beings?’ one student says. ‘Just as he was a patriot, he was also a slaveholder who considered people literal property.’

Students at Hancock High School are pushing to become the first public high school in Chicago to dump its name because it honors a slaveholder.

They want the Southwest Side school renamed, ideally to honor a woman of color.

“As a student at a school with a majority of Brown and Black students and being a person of color myself, I feel it’s unacceptable that our school is named after John Hancock,” said sophomore Destiny Juarez, who with six other members of the school’s Social Justice Club asked the school’s Local School Council Thursday night to begin the process to change the name.

“Is that who we represent — a privileged man who owned other human beings?” Juarez said. “Just as he was a patriot, he was also a slaveholder who considered people literal property. You need to let us change the name of our school.”

The students are asking the school council to get things rolling under the Chicago Public Schools’ formal name-change process. They hope a new name can be settled on before the school moves to a new building in September.

Backed by some teachers and an online petition that has collected 825 signatures, Juarez and the others proposed choosing a new school name from among those of three women: pioneering Black aviator Bessie Coleman, Shirley Chisholm, who was the first Black woman in Congress and first female presidential candidate, and LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson.

They pointed to the findings of a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of the 500-plus CPS school names that found at least 30 schools are named for someone who owned or traded enslaved people.

Among other findings, the analysis also showed that in a school system in which nine of every 10 students identify as people of color, schools named for white people outnumber those named for African Americans by a margin of 4-1, those named after Latinos by 9-1 and those honoring indigenous people by 120-1. Also, for every Chicago school named for a woman, six are named for a man.

Maurice Swinney, CPS’ top official for racial equity, said he was surprised by the findings and promised changes.

Vanessa Puentes Hernandez, Hancock’s principal, said she’s open to presenting the possible change to the school community but said the process is likely to take longer — about a year.

That disappointed Andrea Castillo, a junior.

“We wanted to go into this new building with a fresh new name,” Castillo said. “But I hope that we can possibly do something to make it a little quicker and try to convince them.”

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