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Loyola Blakefield, McDonogh facing calls to change name, sever ties with racist pasts

Two prominent Baltimore County private schools — Loyola Blakefield in Towson and McDonogh School in Owings Mills — are facing pressure to distance themselves from their institutions’ history of racism as Black Lives Matter protests continue nationwide.

A longtime Baltimore community activist created a petition to urge Loyola Blakefield to dissociate with the Blake family name.

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“The Blake family, in exchange for their gift to help Loyola acquire the property on which it now sits, directed that ‘no colored boys be admitted,’” wrote the activist, Ralph Moore, a 1970 graduate and former Loyola teacher.

As a result of the bequest, the Jesuit boys school did not admit African-American students from 1931 to 1956, the petition said.

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Moore called for Loyola Blakefield to change its name back to Loyola High School.

“We are aware of this allegation and are working closely with our alumni and board of trustees to determine what basis — if any — there is for considering a change of name," wrote Loyola President Anthony Day in an emailed statement. “In the meantime, it’s important to make clear that Loyola Blakefield has an unqualified commitment to addressing the tragic and unacceptable prevalence of racism in any and every form — however subtle or blatant.”

Meanwhile, protests in New Orleans have focused on John McDonogh, a wealthy slave owner in the 1800s, who used his his fortune to establish schools there and in Baltimore, including the McDonogh School in Owings Mills. On Saturday, a group of protesters in New Orleans tore down a statue of John McDonogh and threw it into the Mississippi River.

Several New Orleans schools named after McDonogh changed their names in the 1980s and ’90s.

In a statement released Monday, David J. Farace, the head of school at McDonogh in Baltimore County, wrote: "Shamefully and regrettably, slavery is part of our school’s history. John McDonogh, whose estate led to the creation of McDonogh School in 1873, built his wealth using slave labor.

“Today, McDonogh is committed to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community, and in honoring this commitment, we must continue to acknowledge, confront, and denounce the evils of racism that contributed to our school’s founding, and that tragically and systematically still exist in our country.”

McDonogh serves students from pre-K through 12th grade. A spokeswoman for the school did not respond to requests for comment regarding changing the name.

The demands for change and accountability come in the midst of nationwide protests against racial injustice after George Floyd, a black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Across the country, calls have emerged to tear down statues and rename institutions bearing the names of slave owners and racists.

Last week U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, a Baltimore-area Democrat who was recently elected as chair of the Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors, called for the changing the names of two buildings on the Annapolis campus named after Confederate Navy officers.

President Donald Trump said he would not consider altering the name of military bases honoring Confederate soldiers amid such calls.

Dr. Rashawn Ray, a fellow at The Brookings Institution and professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, believes it’s necessary for institutions to be renamed to never repeat the country’s “unfortunate and racist history.”

“What most people have to realize is that most statues and schools named after known racist and slave supporters were implemented during moments in history where racial equity was being pursued,” Ray wrote. “Most confederate statues and schools came about during the Civil Rights movement as opposition to desegregation.”

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In Maryland, institutions at every level have considered changing schools, buildings and memorabilia in light of information that they are tied to slave owners, segregationists and more.

A 2019 report by a Montgomery County Public Schools review board found six of the county’s schools are named after known slave owners. A Towson University committee is currently reviewing the names of two residence halls that are named after Maryland men who owned slaves. And the Maryland State House Trust on Monday voted to remove a Civil War plaque that honors both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Loyola was established in 1852 on Holiday Street in Baltimore as Loyola High School. In 1933, the Blake family helped Loyola acquire the land that is now known as Blakefield with the caveat about admitting African-Americans, Moore said. The school didn’t admit a black student until the late 1950s.

Moore’s petition also calls for Loyola to name its new middle school academic center for one of the four men who integrated the school.

One of those men, former Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes, a 1968 Loyola graduate, said he agrees with Moore’s push for a new name. Stokes said he spent “four good years” at the school and never experienced overt racism, but added that it was important to recognize the school’s fraught history. He refuses to use the Blakefield name when referring to his alma mater.

Moore has brought up changing the school’s name before, Stokes said, and they have been in conversation with the administration, alumni and board members about the issue.

In 2017, a group of black alumni, led by Moore, called on the school to increase its African-American faculty and administrators after graffiti containing a racial slur was found in a bathroom stall. A memo sent to Day also urged the school to adjust the curriculum to better reflect black history.

“I believe we strongly should be doing something to show the diversity and inclusiveness, and something to say the school acknowledges and condemns any racist history that it has,” Stokes said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to damage the school because they have not been racist in the years I’ve known it.”

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