Minneapolis school board backs effort to rename Patrick Henry High School

Volunteers leave Patrick Henry High School.
Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis on Nov. 6, 2015.
Caroline Yang for MPR News 2015

The Minneapolis school board took action Tuesday night to begin a process to rename the city's Patrick Henry High School.

The resolution that passed unanimously is aimed at ending debate "about whether or not the name should be changed," and directs the north Minneapolis school's site council "to bring forward recommendations for a new school name."

The resolution says students, staff and the community "recognize the need for a school name that better represents the values of the community."

Patrick Henry High School was named after the 18th century American Founding Father who famously proclaimed "Give me liberty, or give me death!" But he and other early American historical figures have drawn increased scrutiny and criticism for their connections to slavery.

Henry said he was opposed to slavery — but he also owned slaves and did not free them.

School Board member Kimberly Caprini said at Tuesday's meeting that she welcomed the effort to find a new name.

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"I believe Henry has a changing school community, and this community is working to give a new name to the community that they represent," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with them."

The Minneapolis school district renamed two other schools earlier this year — one originally named after former president Thomas Jefferson, another slave owner; the other named for Philip Sheridan, a Civil War-era general who led forced relocations of Native Americans.

Jefferson Elementary was renamed to honor Ella Baker, a Virginia native and key adviser to the civil rights era Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. She died in 1986.

Sheridan was renamed Las Estrellas, Spanish for stars, a nod to the school's dual-language curriculum.

And the St. Paul school board earlier this year approved renaming Ramsey Middle School; it's now Hidden River Middle School.

Alexander Ramsey was the first governor of the Minnesota Territory and the state's second governor. Critics said his response to the uprising among Native Americans during the Civil War, pledging to exterminate or drive the Dakota from the state, made him unworthy to be honored with a school name.

Among other recent school name changes, the Minneapolis school board in 2017 removed Ramsey's name from a middle school and in its place chose to honor Alan Page, the former Minnesota Viking who became the first African American to sit on the state’s supreme court.

And in 2021, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school board voted to rename Henry Sibley High School, removing the name of the state's first governor from the school.

Sibley was a prominent figure in Minnesota's founding, but he was also a central military figure in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a campaign that eventually led to the largest mass execution in U.S. history, with the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato.

The district renamed the school Two Rivers High School, in recognition of the nearby confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.