The people for whom three Corvallis schools will be renamed seem virtuous if somewhat obscure, with their connections to the mid-valley ranging from minimal to none (and yes, I do realize the presidents they are supplanting weren’t linked to here either).
Kathryn Jones Harrison, a 97-year-old former tribal leader in Oregon, appears the strongest candidate of the three. The others are Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman and first Native American to earn a pilot’s license, and Letitia Carson, a Black pioneer in pre-statehood Oregon.
Coleman, a daring and driven figure to be sure, had no Oregon ties that I could find. Carson, meanwhile, lived both in Benton County and in Southern Oregon, where she became the only Black woman in Oregon to secure a Donation Land Claim — homestead acreage that, presumably, had been made available by taking it from the Indigenous people who were here first.
Maybe the new names will prove inspiring, or maybe not; I’m guessing few at Cheldelin Middle School give much thought to their school’s name or could even tell you off the top of their head who Vernon Cheldelin was.
Then again, possibly the school board missed a chance to create real change, the kind that requires discomfort. The board could have, for example, renamed one of the schools after a person like teenage lynching victim Emmett Till. Possibly a school name like that would force some new consciousness: Racial hatred not only happens, it’s our tragic heritage — face up to it.