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June 25, 2021

South Philly's Andrew Jackson School to be renamed for Fanny Jackson Coppin

The new namesake honors a former slave who spent decades as an educator in the city

Education Schools
Andrew Jackson School name change StreetView/Google Maps

The Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia will be renamed after Fanny Jackson Coppin, a former slave who spent 37 years teaching in the city and also served as the principal of the Institute of the Colored Youth, which was later renamed Cheyney University.

The Andrew Jackson School in South Philadelphia will become the Fanny Jackson Coppin School on July 1, concluding a years-long community effort to remove the name of the former president from the school.

The School District of Philadelphia's Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to rename the school after a Black woman who spent decades teaching in the city after being freed from slavery. School leaders and community members argued the controversial history of Andrew Jackson did not align with the mission of the school or the district. 

"As an individual, core pieces of Andrew Jackson's legacy do not align with or reflect the district's mission, vision and core values," the school district wrote in a statement, CBS3 reported. "His actions towards Native American people that resulted in the well-known Trail of Tears, and his opposition to efforts to limit or end slavery do not align with the district's mission to 'deliver on the civil rights of every child,' especially in a district that serves a majority of students of color."

The name-change effort started in 2018 with a petition that collected more than 800 signatures among the school community. The effort gained momentum with another petition last summer amid the nationwide social justice movement catalyzed by the police killing of George Floyd.

Earlier this year, the district green-lighted a name change and hosted a town hall for community members. It also posted a poll on the school's website for people to vote on a new name

The majority of the school community voted for Coppin to be the school's new namesake, citing her role as a prominent educator in the community, KYW reported.

Coppin was born into slavery, but her aunt purchased her freedom at age 12, according to BlackPast. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where she was the first Black person to chosen to be a pupil-teacher. 

Fanny Jackson Coppin

Coppin moved to Philadelphia in 1865 and served as a teacher and principal at the Institute of the Colored Youth at Ninth and Bainbridge Streets until 1906. The school's name was later changed to Cheyney University. 

"Fanny Jackson Coppin dedicated her life to education, doing whatever was necessary to ensure that people from underserved communities and women had access to a high quality education," Jackson School Principal Kelly Espinosa said in a press release. "She understood that education is the greatest tool in building a positive and productive life and this is a message that still rings true today."

Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, held office from 1829 to 1837 and has no significant connection to Philadelphia. Jackson profited off slavery and had a long history of mistreating Black and Indigenous people.

In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the federal government to exchange land held by Indigenous people for other land located hundreds of miles further west. Though the law did not allow the government to coerce or forcibly remove Indigenous people from their lands, Jackson did so anyway. 

The forced removal of Indigenous people and the treacherous journeys west became known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands of people died along the way.

Jackson also was one of nine presidents who profited from enslaved labor, according to the White House Historical Association. Historians say he treated enslaved Black people with harsh, brutal punishments, such as lashings.

Though the school's name is moving from one Jackson to another, Espinosa told KYW that it's a "beautiful juxtaposition of having a female former enslaved individual now be the new name of our school.

The school also will work to educate students on the purpose and importance of the school's name change, she said.

"Reminding students as to the name change and why we did it is also going to be a big component of our rebranding, in a sense," Espinosa told KYW.

The school, located at 12th and Federal Streets, has been in the community for more than 95 years and teaches students in grades K-8. 

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