Council votes to rename Gompers school for Jesse Owens after CPS merger

October 3, 2013 (CHICAGO)

A South Side school council on Chicago's South Side voted Wednesday to rename Gompers School, located in West Pullman, after the four-time gold medalist. The original Jesse Owens Community Academy at 125th and State was one of about 50 schools closed in June because of declining enrollment. Those students were transferred to Gompers Elementary School.

The change would need to be approved by the Chicago Board of Education.

The school council held two public meetings to get input before voting on the name change.

"If you do your history on the name Gompers people will understand the change. I think it's a good thing. I really do," Maple Tappler, Gompers parent, said.

Parent LaVaughn Hart has another idea- combine the two.

"They shouldn't change it. They should leave it Samuel Gompers. And Jesse Owens' name should not be taken down. It should be Gompers- Jesse Owens Academy," Hart said.

Who is Samuel Gompers?

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens was the most decorated athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Owens moved to Chicago in 1949, and raised his family here. A school was named for Owens after he died in 1980.

Owens' daughters were involved in trying to keep the name. They attended Chicago Public Schools school board meetings and sent a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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

The daughter of the Olympic hero and her two sisters said they couldn't understand why the Chicago public school named after Owens was renamed.

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

Gompers was a labor leader.

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

The district chose to keep the building open for kindergarten through third grade students; the remainder grades will go to Gompers North a block away. Because both buildings are considered the same school, the name was set as 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 great's 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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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