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San Jose Middle School Seeks To Shed Name Of Racist 1st CA Governor

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- A San Jose middle school named after a former racist state leader is asking the community for suggestions on what to rename it.

Peter Burnett was California's first governor, and was sworn in 1849 in San Jose. He was known for wanting to exclude African-Americans, Chinese and Native Americans from California.

"He was a jackass," said Petra Pino, who lives near Peter Burnett Middle School. "He was a racist guy."

"He didn't want to have black people in the area, he did what he could to Native Americans and destroyed their homes and destroyed their livelihood," said Pino, who did research on Burnett when first moving to California more than a decade ago.

Pino now lives in walking distance of the middle school, which is now working to change its name. The San Jose Unified School District has a submission form on its website that allows anyone to enter in suggestions.

Burnett Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Cap Wilhelm-Safian wrote a letter on the district's Facebook page explaining that he'd wondered who Peter Burnett was.

"The answer to that question has been disturbing.... The legacy of Peter Burnett sharply conflicts with the values we hold now," said Wilhelm-Safian.

Through research, he learned that Burnett pushed for exclusion of African Americans, advocated for the extermination of Native Americans and supported the Chinese Exclusion Act.

"They're doing their job right and they're doing research, doing critical thinking," Pino said.

Burnett student Annabel Guzman said she recently heard about the effort to change the name of her school.

"I'm glad they're changing it," she said.

This isn't the first time Burnett's name has been erased from a school. In 2015, a Long Beach elementary school named after Burnett changed its name.

"I think we could find somebody more positive and maybe connected to San Jose," said Lindsey Fish, who lives near the school.

The San Jose Unified School District is taking name suggestions until March 11.

"I think it's awesome," said Pino. "I'd be happy to put in a couple suggestions."

A district spokesperson did not respond to call from KPIX 5 Tuesday evening.

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