Seaman schools keep name but will stop associating with ‘vile’ Klan leader

By: - November 10, 2021 8:46 am

More than 40 people, many of them students, gathered Monday in front of the Seaman Education Center, where board members moved to keep the name of Ku Klux Klan leader Fred A. Seaman, but strip all associations and references to him. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Seaman schools north of Topeka will keep their name but disavow their racist namesake.

Following months of contentious debate — and an election where two school board candidates defeated incumbents with campaigns built around preserving the name of a former Ku Klux Klan leader — the school board voted Monday to denounce all associations with Fred A. Seaman. Students who have advocated for a new name weren’t satisfied with the decision and promised to keep fighting.

Last year, student journalists at Seaman High School reported Seaman, who founded the district’s high school and was its principal from 1920 to 1931, was also the “exalted cyclops” of the local Klan chapter. The revelation sparked an outcry from many in the student body and community to change the school name.

After workshops, protests and community discussions, the board proposed and passed an alternative to what became a divisive issue in local school board elections. The measure condemns Seaman’s “revolting” and “vile” history and mandates removal of all references to the Klan leader from the district permanently.

Kansas students stand up to hate, bigotry in push to replace Klan leader’s name

The name, however, will remain.

“The action taken by this board tonight is an incremental step toward removing racism in our district,” said board president Keith Griffin. “By separating from Fred A. Seaman, this board is supporting that our community is larger than one person and does not support or uphold the actions of Fred A. Seaman.”

The seven-person board moved unanimously to approve the measure. The decision comes just days after Griffin and Cherie Sage lost their seats in the general election to Chris Travis and Donna McGinty, who supported keeping the Seaman name.

The measure also encouraged the high school’s museum class to create an exhibit focusing on Seaman’s “repulsive involvement” with the Ku Klux Klan. The suggestion was included to ensure knowledge of Seaman’s actions does not fade into history.

Before the vote, more than 40 students, parents and concerned community members gathered in front of the Seaman Education Center, where the vote took place. The rallygoers carried signs calling for the name change.

Those on hand said the board should be responsive to the students and reject a name symbolic of hate.

“If we don’t change the name, it sends the message to our community and communities around us that we condone that hate and that we don’t stand for better,” said Olivia Oliva, a senior at Seaman High School.

The Rename Seaman Schools Facebook page said actions take by the board were insufficient and demonstrated a lack of inclusivity. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

The Unified School District 345 board formed a nine-person namesake committee in March. An October report from the committee provided information on Seaman and his history but did not make a recommendation.

Kayla McClenny, a senior at the high school, came out in solidarity with her classmates of color. She said students should not be forced to represent someone who caused so much pain for people of color in the community.

“People of color are still affected, even today,” McClenny said. “It’s kind of just showing they don’t really care about all the Klan did.”

A statement on the Rename Seaman Schools Facebook page after the vote expressed disappointment in the board’s actions. The statement noted the fight to change the name would not end.

“In no way is this resolution indicative of a caring and responsive culture,” the statement reads. “Those of us impacted by the racism and hatred of Seaman and the KKK will not be deterred.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.