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Roseland Elementary School Renamed After Jesse Owens

By Wendell Hutson | March 28, 2014 6:54pm
 A renaming ceremony for Jesse Owens Community Elementary School took place March 28, 2014 in Roseland.
Remaning of Jesse Owens Elementary School
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ROSELAND — Last year's historic school closings not only displaced students at one South Side elementary school, but also erased the name of its famous namesake. But after a ceremony Friday, another school now bears the name of legendary track star Jesse Owens.

The Chicago School Board voted at an October 2013 meeting to rename Gompers Fine Arts Options Elementary School, 12302 S. State St., to Jesse Owens Community Elementary School, which was among 49 underutilized elementary schools the school district closed.

At a Friday renaming ceremony at the school the late Owens' daughter, Marlene Rankin, thanked everyone involved in renaming the building.

"This was a community effort from parents to local residents. We received support from a whole lot of people and I know without them this might not have happened," Rankin said. "I fought to restore his name because I did not want to see everything my father stood for and meant to this community gone at the blink of an eye."

Owens, a black track and field star, won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He died in 1980.

Beverly Prather, another of Owens' daughters, said the moment Jesse Owens Elementary closed her family went to work to keep the name alive.

"Immediately we contacted the Local School Council, alderman and anyone else we could think of to protest the loss of my father's name," she said. "Parents and the community supported us on this effort and we took it all the way to Barbara Byrd-Bennett [CEO of Chicago Public Schools], who in the end, agreed to recommend to the school board that the name be restored."

Joining Owens' daughters at the renaming ceremony were Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and state Rep. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago), whose wards includes the school, and Phillip Hampton, chief of CPS' community and family engagement.

Getting Gompers renamed was no easy task, said Principal Melody Seaton, but "thanks to the community it was a goal well achieved."

However, Beale said people should see Samuel Gompers as someone who was insignificant to the community.

"Changing the name does not mean Gompers was less important to the community," explained Beale. "But Jesse Owens had more of a historic significance to the African American community than Gompers, who also had historic significance. I commend the community for stepping up to the plate on this issue."

Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor and died in 1924. The city named Gompers Park, on the Northwest Side, for him.

Hampton encouraged students to be proud of their names.

"The names that we call ourselves mean something. That's why we are here today because of a name," Hampton said. "We are recognizing this name [Jesse Owens] as symbol of success."