Kansas students resist hatred, bigotry to replace Klan leader’s name

TOPEKA – Kevinh Nguyen considers the Seaman public school district to be a “gentrified apartment complex”.

The son of immigrants from Vietnam and senior in high school just north of Topeka is among the students who want to rename the neighborhood, following the revelation that his namesake was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. It “hurts me. to the heart, ”he says in a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast, of thinking about the Asian students who will follow him.

Fred Seaman’s name exclusively represents a white community, Nguyen said.

“I feel like the foundation of my education is always tainted, or that when I talk to students they have this card on me that their district is built on the basis that white students will always have an advantage over. minority students, that whenever we try to fight, they can always count on the name Fred Seaman, ”Nguyen said.

Seaman High School student reporters produced amazing research last year that confirmed long-standing rumors of Seaman’s affiliation with the most notorious of violent and racist hate groups. Newspaper articles called Seaman an “exalted Cyclops”. His affiliation with the Klan had limited his political ambitions.

Now, community members outraged by the Critical Race Theory and Canceling Culture have focused their anger on preserving the district’s name. Strong opinions on the topic are evident in campaigns for school board seats, a bigot-drenched Facebook group, and heated school board meetings where attendees poke fun at the teens involved.

Students who prefer to sever ties with a known Klan leader have been personally attacked by adults in Facebook comments for sharing their views. Insults and hatred online are spreading through high school hallways and classrooms.

Emma Simpson, a high school student from Seaman High School who joined Nguyen in the podcast discussion, said the decision to advocate for the school’s name change was about “my moral.” As a white college student, she could speak up for what’s right or be a bystander.

“It’s a big deal because I think it’s about protecting our students,” Simpson said. “I think when you highlight things like racism, homophobia, and bigotry, it brings out more people who suddenly feel the need to be able to speak with hate. And a lot of my friends are people of color, and I feel like if I didn’t talk, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a friend.

His poem “When Hate Comes to School” explores how slurs transform the goal of school life from education to survival. It includes these lines:

Classrooms become cemeteries filled with lost dreams.

Lockers deteriorate into coffins labeled with children’s names.

Names attached to faces that were smiling and looking forward to the next day of school.

Nguyen and Simpson promoted protests and helped circulate a petition in favor of the name change. Nguyen sits on an equity council with administrators, teachers and students to review school policies. He spoke to the school board about his desire to change the name.

Their advocacy provided an invaluable lesson in good citizenship. But they find it difficult to understand the harsh criticism from community members. To students, this sounds like a simple request: they don’t want to be identified by a Klan leader.

“It’s like this sense of belonging that they have this community and they don’t want to lose that sense of identity in their community,” Nguyen said.

He doesn’t have much sympathy for community members who derive their identity from the name of their high school: “I’m not kidding you: they’re concerned about the name on the back of their Letterman jacket.” And they said, “How are we going to replace the word ‘Seaman’ on the back?

The debate stems from the October 2020 publication in the high school newspaper of a story of alumni Tristan Fangman and Madeline Gearhart, who found evidence of Fred Seaman’s racist past in newspaper articles from Topeka, Atchison, Hutchinson and Kansas City that identified Seaman as a well-known leader of the Klan.

Gearhart also helped a story published by Topeka Capital-Journal in February 2021 which provided additional historical insight. Seaman was born and raised in Ohio and held various positions in Kansas schools before moving to Topeka in 1916. He helped secure funding to build a school north of the city and became the first principal. high school when it opened in 1920. He left in 1931 to be principal of Onaga High School and died in 1948 in Arkansas at the age of 81.

The pupils reacted by putting pressure on the principals to change the name. This led to the creation of the Fight For USD 345 A private children’s Facebook group, bringing together community members who oppose renaming the district, teaching critical race theory, or requiring students to wear masks facial at school.

“We want our schools to be academics-oriented! Says the page description. “Leave moral education to parents!” “

Within the private group, community members speak out against “culture cancellation” in rambling comments filled with grammatical errors and name calling.

“Most of the hate and negative reaction we have received from other community members at all levels has been on Facebook, just outright negativity directed at students and teachers,” Simpson said. “We have had teachers who have been interrogated and attacked, family members who have been threatened. It’s wild for me.

Kansas Reflector has obtained screenshots of some of the offensive comments.

Dalene Stadler: “Democrats indoctrinated Marxist solicitor full of bs kids !!!! .. that gives a *** of you are stupid documents… how about us focusing on teaching history to our young people.” , love for the country, respect for our flag ..nd teach them that racism is a waking excuse for all your stupid temper tantrums. “

Jeana White: “Don’t change the name. My 1968 class had a black student as a popular class president too.

Brent Dorsey: “The only way to have ‘equality of results’ is to steal from one and give to the other and how is that equality. “

David McMillin: “The gun show is in September…. There is a shooting range in Topeka… .. Kansas is a state of concealment and porterage…. DON’T HOLD ON THE DEEP LIBERAL STATE …… ”

Brett Bitner: “WE as the electorate have to start jerking off. So far, the board of directors and politicians in general do not feel the pain. They think that they are only jerking off, because they will have the impression that they are not re-elected; and they think they’ve sewn it up. We need to show them that there is more pain that we can inflict on them. It’s time to get serious.

Chris Travis and Donna McGinty are running for school board seats with platforms opposing the district name change.

Travis included this explanation on his candidate page on Facebook: “I’m done sitting on the sidelines watching our district reps make bad decisions that negatively affect my children, nieces, nephews and their classmates with masking forced, BLM, critical race theory, racial fairness, additional benefits for the vaccinated and other frivolous spending of taxpayer money that has no place in our district.

In a video posted to her campaign page on August 24, McGinty claimed she had not visited anyone wishing to change their names.

“If they get this through, this cancellation of culture at the local level, it will only be the beginning, don’t worry. So be a voice. Be a strong voice, ”McGinty said.

Nguyen called this “cheap politics”.

“Honestly, it makes me sick, but you know, it’s just politics,” Nguyen said. “It’s like that.”

Simpson said he was concerned about the prospect that these candidates may soon be able to determine the policies that affect the lives of students.

“We want to take care of our students,” Simpson said. “We want them to feel loved and protected. And we want that sense of community. We don’t want racism, hatred, fanaticism. We don’t want our students to come to school fearing for their lives, jumping over these obstacles to get to their classrooms and being trapped in a box with nowhere to go.

In comments from the Facebook group, several people said that students who want to change the name of the neighborhood are troublemakers. Connie Bailey called them “jealous little kids”.

Nguyen delves into the idea of ​​creating “good trouble”.

“You cannot have change without struggle,” Nguyen said. “And then if you don’t fight, you won’t have any change. So bet, you know? It’s always this constant cycle where the younger ones want to have something new and the older ones don’t want to change.

Simpson had to get used to the label of troublemaker.

“We are great kids,” she said. “We’re respectful, and we’re nice and we’ve got really good grades, and we’re very respected. Except all of a sudden we start to walk through that door and speak out.

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Norma A. Roth