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Waukegan School Board Votes To Rename Thomas Jefferson Middle School For John Lewis, After Suggestion Of Barack Obama Draws Objections

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) -- Renaming a school has stirred up controversy in Waukegan.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Tuesday night, a proposal to name the school after former President Barack Obama did not go over well.

With so much attention on race across the country, the Waukegan School District opted to look at the names on two school buildings and determined the schools should be renamed.

The school at 600 S. Lewis Ave. in Waukegan is now called Thomas Jefferson Middle School. But Jefferson was a slaveholder, and the Waukegan School Board saw fit to remove the third president's name from the building.

"One way to address is when you have a name on the building that represents that same racism that we're talking about, that you all thought it was necessary to support the cause of changing that name," one man said at the meeting. "I think it's very important."

Yet when President Obama's name came up, it was met with opposition. Some in the community felt the 44th president did not do enough for the Latinx community while in office.

At the Tuesday school board meeting, those opposed to the Obama name offered alternatives.

"I did some research on African-American inventors. Madam Walker - she's a self-made millionaire. She invented the hairbrush," one man said.

A woman fired back at that suggestion: "So please don't teach us about Black history by reading by reading five, six names. Madam C.J. Walker did a nice thing doing hair. but Barack Obama did a lot of things to save people lives."

Yet when it came time to vote, the names were narrowed down to Barack or Michelle Obama, or civil rights icon and late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Many felt President Obama is better known to middle-schoolers. But board members believe Lewis paved the way for Obama and voted in his favor.

The name change goes into effect July 1, at which point Thomas Jefferson Middle School will become John Lewis Middle School.

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