Houston ISD renames Montrose-area faculty to honor civil rights chief Ella J. Baker

Woodrow Wilson Montessori from the Montrose region, which opened in the 1920s, will now be the namesake of civil rights activist Ella J. Baker. (Courtesy Houston ISD)

The Houston ISD Board of Trustees made a decision that has been in the works for several months. Woodrow Wilson Montessori was renamed Ella J. Baker, a civil rights activist.

The decision was taken unanimously at the Trustees’ meeting on April 8th.

“I fully support this name change and look forward to fighting racism – including structural racism – in the future,” said trustee Elizabeth Santos.

The process began when parents started asking administrators for a change after Princeton University decided to do it in the summer of 2020 when they removed their former president’s name from their public and international affairs school as well as one of their dormitories.

“Princeton’s decision allowed us to look at this a bit earlier, but based on what I’ve seen of our community’s commitment, it would have ended up either way,” said director Shameika Sykes-Salvador. “I’m very proud of our community and I was honored that they brought this to me.”

Wilson was US President from 1913 to 1921. Although he was known for his vision of a League of Nations after World War I, after years of integration he also separated federal agencies and supported Jim Crow’s laws in Washington, DC while he was President of Princeton, who also refused to enroll black students.

The renaming process began in earnest in January with a committee of students, faculties, and parents developing guiding values ​​and getting name recommendations from the community. Out of dozens of names, the committee chose to recognize Baker, a civil rights activist behind the scenes. A civil rights and economic justice attorney for over 50 years, she has chaired the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“After we did the research and saw what she did, she stayed at the top of our list,” said Skyes-Salvador. “Who she was reconciled with as Montessori. When we see a problem, we do the work – we don’t wait for someone else to solve it.”

The Board of Directors agenda item on April 8th included an allocation of $ 100,000 to implement the change, including replacing outdoor signage. The school will also look at selecting a new mascot – currently the Wildcats – and working on ways to preserve the legacy of the Wilson community.

“We also see this as a learning experience for the students,” said Skyes-Salvador. “We want to honor what we have done as a school community.”

The school in the Montrose area has about 600 students enrolled in preschool through eighth grade and 60% of students are non-white. The campus opened in 1925.

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