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Despite legislative setback, advocates will continue push to rename an Oahu high school

Updated: Mar. 21, 2021 at 6:01 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The racial unrest across the country this past summer has fueled the movement to rename schools honoring historical figures with racist or discriminatory legacies.

But activist said state lawmakers’ decision last week to defer a resolution to rename McKinley High School shows how far behind Hawaii is when it comes to correcting the wrongs of racial inequality.

“We’re not facing the wrongdoings of President McKinley about how he affected and shaped Hawaii. It’s kind of -- almost like a slap in the face,” said Aoloa Patao, a Kohala High School teacher.

Patao has advocated for the name change since 2015, because of President McKinley’s role in the annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1898.

“He was unlawful and he shouldn’t be celebrated in Hawaii,” he said.

Despite the setback in the Legislature, Patao says he will now lobby outgoing Superintendent Christina Kishimoto to ask the Board of Education to change the school’s name.

Kishimoto has said that the department is currently conducting its own research on the matter.

But some prominent McKinley graduates like former Adjutant General Robert Lee, a 1966 alum, argued that annexation -- and eventually statehood -- benefited people in Hawaii in the long run.

He said that had the U.S. not annexed Hawaii, the kingdom would have come under the control of European rivals whose rule would have been harsher.

“The crowd I’m talking to say it’s a waste of time and it’s a wrong perspective of history,” said Lee.

Other said changing the school’s name will also sever many graduates’ connections with their alma mater.

“We’re not connected to President (McKinley). We’re connected to the brand of McKinley High School and its name, the history, the traditions and all that,” said David Kawada, former president of the school’s alumni association.

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