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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Lockport Board of Education created a committee to study the potential renaming of North Park Junior High in 2012. Some community members wanted to rename the building after Aaron Mossell, who was instrumental in desegregating the district in 1876.

Mossell, the son of a former slave, had sold bricks to the school district in the early 1870s for the school being built across the street from his High Street home. But when the school was finished, Mossell was told that his kids could not attend the school. Rather they had to go miles away to the district's "colored" schoolhouse.

For five years Mossell petitioned the school board to allow his children to attend the closer school. Eventually the school board relented. Soon thereafter, the school district did away with the "colored" school completely, desegregating the district decades before the federal government outlawed segregation.

When the original group - comprised of local business leader David Kinyon, former Alderwoman Flora McKenzie, community leader Mark Sanders, Wayne Ginty, Mike Finn, Desiree Wiley, Miles Patterson and Marion Hannigan - approached the school board about renaming North Park, one of only two district schools without a namesake, it seemed like a slam dunk.

Wednesday night, however, the district-appointed naming committee, which included none of the original community group, suggested against the renaming the building, opting instead to propose the district tell Mossell's story "as part of a history class," as school board member Thomas Fiegl put it.

The committee also suggested possibly naming a driveway after Mossell. Or building a brick wall with a granite plaque in his honor.

They explained that of the district buildings that are named, no one knows the stories of the namesakes. In time, they suggest, Mossell's memory will fade if a building is named after him. But that history class they're suggesting could obviously never be changed.

Mossell was a pioneer, putting Lockport light years ahead of other school districts across the country. The former brick deserves to be properly honored with more than a wall. Deciding to name North Park after him should have taken weeks - at most. Instead five months later they suggest a consolation prize in the form of a driveway.

The committee was right on one regard, though. Lockportians are painfully unaware of who Emmet Belknap, Roy B. Kelley, Charlotte Cross, George Southard, Anna Merritt, Charles Upson and John Pound are. But whose fault is that? Those who are educating our students.

Lockport should adopt a local history component in its curriculum, including, but not limited to, letting people know who their schools are named after. Aaron Mossell should be on that list because his name should be carved in stone on what is currently called North Park Junior High.

— Editor, ENP

PERSPECTIVES are the opinions of staff of East Niagara Post and may not be indicative of the opinions of our advertisers. 

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