A Far South Side community took the first formal steps Wednesday toward restoring the name of Olympic legend Jesse Owens to an area school.
Owens, the African-American track star whose gold medal-winning performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was also a symbolic victory over Adolf Hitler, had a school in the West Pullman neighborhood named in his honor shortly after his 1980 death.
But Owens' name was removed from the building earlier this year after Chicago Public Schools decided to close Jesse Owens Community Academy but keep the building open as part of Samuel Gompers Fine Arts Option School.
Owens' three daughters, all of whom live in Chicago and attended a hearing Wednesday on the change, started a campaign to get their father's name restored. Students in the predominantly black community can benefit from going to a school named after a national hero with a similar background, they said.
"His example is a message to the kids that you can succeed in the face of adversity," Marlene O. Rankin, one of Owens' daughters, said after the hearing.
The three women were among about 15 people at the hearing. Earlier in the day, the Gompers Local School Council agreed to take up the matter.
After another public hearing next Wednesday, the Local School Council will vote in October on whether to send a recommendation for a change to the CPS board.
If the school board then greenlights the change, Gompers will become known as Jesse Owens Elementary Community Academy. If that happens, Owens' name would be used at both of the buildings currently named for Gompers — the one that long held the Olympian's name and the nearby building that has always honored Gompers, a labor leader in the U.S. who was born in England.
The renaming seemed to have wide support at Wednesday's meetings, where many also spoke of what they saw as a tone-deaf slight in taking down the name of a black legend from a building where classes continue to be held.
"This smacks of racism, and I hate it and I'm for changing the name of the school," said Arthur Hyrams, a community representative on Gompers' Local School Council.
Schools designated by the district to take in students from schools that were closed in the spring all kept their names. That was the case even when the receiving school's administration and teaching staff moved into the building of the school that was closed.
But something changed in West Pullman when the Owens name came down, said Patrice Butler-Winslow, vice chair of the Gompers Local School Council.
"That name meant a lot to our community," she said after the meeting. "To bring that name back to our community would bring back hope."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun