What’s next for SAISD schools on East Side with historic names?

Douglass, Gates, Miller elementary schools all have historic significance for SAISD

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio ISD voted to close more than a dozen schools, but one of the many questions that remain is what happens to the history behind some of these schools, specifically on the East Side.

Frederick Douglass, Samuel H. Gates and Doris Miller elementary schools all have historical significance and generations of stories to tell.

“There is something exciting about knowing that someone that looks like you made a difference in today’s world,” said Deborah Omowale Jarmon, CEO of the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum.

But they are names associated with three SAISD schools that will close after this year. The goal now is to keep those names alive for future generations.

“Some very historical individuals here in San Antonio graduated from Douglass. It was the first school named after an African-American in San Antonio,” said Dr. Gregory Hudspeth, President of NAACP San Antonio.

The origins of Douglass can be traced to the late 1800s, when it was Rincon Street School and built for children of freed slaves near the San Antonio River. The school relocated to its current site in 1915. It has been a high school, middle and now elementary school.

“Losing that school, that’s a real significant problem within the African-American community,” Hudspeth said.

Samuel Houston Gates attended Douglass and later became the principal there. Gates Elementary opened in 1965.

“Mr. Gates fought so hard for equal educational opportunities for students here,” Jarmon said. “It was the first school that was named for a contemporary African-American figure that was from San Antonio.”

“He was a significant role player in the San Antonio Independent School District dealing with equality,” Hudspeth said.

Dorie Miller was a Navy hero who saved countless lives during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

“We understand the role that he played historically in the attack and what he did as a cook, picking up arms in order to protect our nation,” Hudspeth said. “He put his life on the line to protect this country.”

Miller Elementary opened as W.W. White School No. 2 in 1947 at its present location. The school’s name changed in the 1950s in honor of Miller and has served children in the Lincolnshire community on the East Side.

“We’re in military city, so why not have a place that’s named after a military hero,” Jarmon said.

Hudspeth said he understands and supports SAISD’s decision to close schools to improve the quality of education for all students, but does not want the history of those schools to be erased.

“We’re more than happy to work with the San Antonio Independent School District to maintain Black heritage that we need in the community. I think that the school district does recognize the significance of those schools and the significance of those names,” Hudspeth said.

“Even though these schools are named after prominent African-Americans, they have served the entire community,” Jarmon said. “It’s our hope that we can help SAISD memorialize those institutions. We can’t depend on anyone to keep our story alive except us.”

In a statement to KSAT about the legacies of those names within the district, SAISD said the following.

We will continue to honor the history of the schools, the legacy of the historical figures after which they are named, and the memories of the students and families who loved them. We will involve the community in the discussions on how best to do this. These discussions will take place during upcoming meetings around the repurposing of buildings. We are creating a small citizen panel on the repurposing initiative, and a nomination process will begin the last week of November. This Facility Repurposing Committee will begin meeting in January, and they will plan and coordinate the public meetings throughout the spring so that we can begin the process of gathering community input.

About the Authors

RJ Marquez is the traffic anchor/reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He also fills in as a news anchor and has covered stories from breaking news and Fiesta to Spurs championships and high school sports. RJ started at KSAT in 2010. He is proud to serve our viewers and be a part of the culture and community that makes San Antonio great.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.

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