Chicago school with racist's name to be renamed after Harriet Tubman

American abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman is pictured (1820 - 1913), who escaped slavery by marrying a free man and led many other slaves to safety using the abolitionist network known as the Underground Railroad. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

A Chicago elementary school long named for a biologist who promoted racist ideology will be renamed for abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

The renaming of Louis Agassiz Elementary School to Harriet Tubman IB World School comes as part of the Chicago Public Schools’ review of school names.


The Swiss-born Agassiz, who lived in the 19th century and educated in Germany, was a believer in eugenics, the idea that some characteristics and African and African American people are inferior to others and should be bred out of humanity. He was a professor at Harvard University and is celebrated for his contributions to the study of natural science.

An effort by a group of parents to rename the school three years ago stalled over cost concerns. The effort was revived last year as demonstrations erupted over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the name change on Wednesday.

Tina Holder King, a parent representative on the school’s school council, was part of the group pushing for a name change. Tubman’s name was chosen over Katherine Johnson, who performed orbital mechanics calculations for NASA, and civil rights legend Rosa Parks.

"As an African American, I’m so happy to see Harriet Tubman’s name on an institution representative of the community at large," she said. `` Those African American historical figures deserve to be mainstream, just like non-Black historical figures."

Chirag Mehta, who was part of a 2017 push to remove Agassiz’s name, said the biologist’s ideas played a pivotal role in justifying the racism that continues to be seen. He Agassiz’s justification of white supremacy is reason enough to take his name off the school.