Ronald Reagan's racist remarks prompt activists to demand high school change its name

Activists are demanding that a school remove Ronald Reagan from its name after audio of the late president calling United Nations delegates from African countries “monkeys” was recently released.

Activists James Carey and Ricky Castaneda launched a Change.org petition on Monday imploring the Elizabeth Board of Education in Elizabeth, N.J. to rename Ronald Reagan Academy School Number 30 following the “insensitive, racist” remarks Reagan made on a 1971 phone call with Richard Nixon.

The petition reads:

“We the undersigned residents of Elizabeth, NJ, endorse this petition in an effort to have the Elizabeth School Board, remove former President Ronald Reagan's name from the school bearing his name at 730 Pennsylvania Avenue, for the insensitive, racist remarks he made in 1971 about African delegates to the United Nations.”

The appeal follows an article published by The Atlantic on July 30 by Tim Naftali, the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Naftali released the recording of a phone call between Reagan, who was the governor of California, and then-President Nixon. In the call, Regan says “to see those, those monkeys from those African countries. Damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.”

Castanda tells Yahoo Lifestyle that as of Thursday, they’ve collected more than150 signatures from the online petition, and have more than 500 signatures on a separate physical petition that is being circulated in Elizabeth, N.J.

“Dozens from the community have been outraged for some time about Ronald Reagan bearing the name of a school in Elizabeth before the revelation of the racist audio. We want the name to be removed because his name does not belong in a public school, especially in Elizabeth,” he says. “It was necessary to raise awareness to the community of Elizabeth, mostly a Latinx and African-American community, that were harmed by his policy and rhetoric. Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act. His opposition to other social programs caused disproportionate inequities for the Latinx and African-American community.”

James Carey didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. But in an interview with NJ.com, he suggested renaming the school after Sister Jacinta Fernandes, a founder of St. Joseph Social Center which is also located in Elizabeth, or after Barack Obama. However, Carey’s main concern is that Reagan’s name should be removed, as the school was named by a “former corrupt” school board.

"Naming the school after Ronald Reagan in the States 4th largest urban city, was the former corrupt school board majority led by Raphael Fajardo's way of rubbing it in the city government's face because the two were often at odds with one another," he wrote in the online petition.

Pat Politano, a spokesman for the Elizabeth Board of Education, confirms that none of the present board members were involved in the process.

"It should be noted that Ronald Reagan Academy was named by a previous school board. None of the current nine members were serving then,” Politano tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "Board policy is to name schools after prominent individuals, but that is not an endorsement of all of the policies or statements of those individuals.

Politano said that "the board finds the recently uncovered comments appalling.” It plans on listening to the petitioners concerns during the next Board of Education meeting which is scheduled to take place on Aug. 22.

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