Sarah Smith Garnet. Photo from the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress’s Manuscript Division, via Wikipedia.

It took five years, but P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, finally ditched its school sign, which had featured the name of a slave-holding family name. The school is replacing it with Sarah Smith Garnet, the name of the first Black woman to serve as a public school principal in the city. This process started back when a parent at the school first realized that the school’s namesake, Democratic congressman and historian Teunis G. Bergen, came from a family of slave owners. 

The school’s parent-teacher organization voted unanimously on the idea to rename the school after Garnet and the name officially changed in 2019. But it took until March 28 for the school to unveil the new sign, which now reads ‘PS 9 Sarah Smith Garnet School,’ at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Garnet was born in Brooklyn in 1831. When she began teaching in 1854, NYC schools were still racially segregated. She then went on to become the first Black woman principal of an integrated school in Manhattan. She also founded the Equal Suffrage League, a suffrage club for Black women, and worked to support Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign. 

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