School to lose Jesse Owens name

August 22, 2013 (CHICAGO)

CPS has other plans for the building on 125th place and State and the Olympian's daughters are fighting to keep their father's legacy alive.

Jesse Owens' daughters have taken their fight to school board meetings and this week sent a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Their efforts have failed. The West Pullman neighborhood school is now official called Gompers South.

"Kids don't know who Gompers is, I don't know who Gompers is, or was," said Beverly Owens Prather.

But, she certainly knows who Jesse Owens was. The daughter of the Olympic hero and her two sisters can't understand why the Chicago Public School named after Owens was renamed.

"Jesse Owens means more to the community then whoever Gompers was," Prather said.

Gompers was a labor leader. Owens won four track and field gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens' victories were seen as a huge embarrassment to Adolph Hitler, but it was Owens' work as a humanitarian that his daughters say is something CPS students can learn about and emulate.

"He was just a giving person and person you could talk to and feel like you got something out of it. And I think his memory reflects that," said Prather.

And in his memory, an elementary school in the West Pullman neighborhood was named after Jesse Owens shortly after his 1980 death. This year, the Far South Side school was one of 49 that made the closure list.

The district chose to keep the building open for kindergarten through 3rd grade students in the remainder grades will go to Gompers North a block away. Because both buildings are considered the same school, the name will be under Gompers.

"You can call it what you want, but it is still standing and they're not going to tear it down," said Nattie Smith.

Registering her grandchildren Thursday, Smith is relieved the school is still open. Troy Smith went to Owens. He wished it still had the Olympic greats name for his own children, but he too is happy his neighborhood school is still standing.

"It could have been completely shut down and vacant, could have been worse than the name coming down," he said.

Despite what the daughters say, Owens' daughters are not giving up. They're hoping there will be a change of heart, especially since the 100th birthday of Jesse Owens is on September 12.

CPS said the only way the name can get changed is through the local school council, then it has to be approved by the full school board.

So the next fight for the daughters will probably be with local school council.

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