OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Omaha Public Schools high school near 120th and Dodge has been named for Harry Burke since the school opened in 1967.
Now in 2020, people are giving it a new second look, including former student Grace Loux, who started a petition online.
“With everything going on in the world, it’s like what’s right to do. It’s a good time to have a fresh start and have change because it’s not representing Burke well,” says Loux.
Harry Burke served as OPS superintendent from 1946 until his death in 1962.
Our partners at the Omaha World Herald say their archives show that he was criticized for discriminatory hiring practices, and only allowing Black educators to teach in primarily Black schools.
“I even know people that won’t send their kids to Burke because of the name and the stigma around it,” says Loux.
Warren Taylor, who’s now in his 90’s at a retirement home in west Omaha, had a meeting with Harry Burke decades ago.
Taylor was a teacher, trying to step up and be an administrator.
“So he said, the last time I met with him, that I’m trying to move too fast. And he had all these statistics and manuals and books on his desk to prove to me that I was trying to move too fast, but I didn’t think so,” says Taylor.
Taylor eventually proved Burke wrong, going on to be principal of Kellom and Lothrop Elementary, both located in north Omaha.
Now he also wants Burke's name off the high school.
“Yeah. He had such a bad image in the black community because he was so prejudiced and bigoted and I don’t think he ever went to the Black community. I know he never went to Lothrop,” says Taylor.
In a statement, Omaha Public Schools says “The diversity of our student body, staff and community is our greatest strength. We are currently creating spaces for students to come together and talk, where we will listen to their thoughts on current events and their experiences in our community. Our work, both immediate and long-term, is equity-focused to support each student's success.”
The petition has well over 1,200 signatures and a Facebook group is already going through names of possible replacements.
One school board member that spoke with 3 News Now didn’t rule out a change.
Ricky Smith says that he wants the community to have more conversations on the issue before it goes to the school board.