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Harford County Board votes to rename two schools titled after slave owners

More than 200 years after their deaths, they now appear to fall on the wrong side of history
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Posted at 4:13 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 23:12:04-04

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. — Two schools in Harford County, named after slave owners, will be renamed, the school district voted Monday evening.

The Board voted unanimously to rename William Paca Elementary School and John Archer School.

Several Board members admitted they were unaware who Paca and Archer were and that this could be a great teaching moment for the Board members.

It has not been decided on what the new names will be.

John Archer's final resting place in Churchville at the historic Presbyterian cemetery is just down the road from the John Archer School---named after the man known as the first graduate of medicine in America, while William Paca, who signed the Declaration of Independence, is the namesake of a school in Abingdon.

More than 200 years after their deaths, they now appear to fall on the wrong side of history.

“Imagine you were Jewish, and you were told it was was no big deal that you went to a school named after Adolf Hitler," a speaker at Monday's Board meeting said. "Sounds absurd doesn’t it? So why would we want to do that to Black and brown children who attend William Paca or John Archer who enslaved 117 Black people? Those people weren’t noble."

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“William Paca and also John Archer were individuals who enslaved human beings and so that, alone, is an issue and a concern when we have students in this community going to those schools---often students of color,” said Harford County NAACP President Vicki Jones.

More than 1,500 people signed petitions in support of changing the schools names last year, and a report from Superintendent of Schools Sean Bulson says maintaining the name of an owner of enslaved persons as part of a name of a school is inconsistent with the school system’s educational mission.

On another historical point, the NAACP claims Harford County was the last county in Maryland to integrate its schools.

“The United States was based off of racism so of course, it’s in this county. We know it’s in this county,” said Jones, “We know they were people who had families and for generations were part of this system so it’s not surprising.”

Even if the board votes to strip the school of its name, more work may lie ahead, since just across the street at this industrial park, it also carries Paca’s name.

“I’m willing to take up that conversation as well,” said Jones. “I’ll keep moving until we make all of the changes we think are necessary.”