Petition Seeks to Rename Hawaii's McKinley High School

by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang /  / Updated 

An online petition to restore the previous name of President William McKinley High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, is receiving renewed attention and debate. The petition, which had been started in June, calls for the school to return to the use of one of its original names, "Honolulu High School."

The petition gained traction after President Barack Obama officially renamed Mount McKinley in Alaska to Mount Denali, which "recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives," according to a press release.

McKinley High School is one of Hawaii’s oldest schools. According to the school’s history, it was established in 1865 as Fort Street English Day School, renamed Honolulu High School in 1895, and renamed again in 1907 to honor the president who “helped to bring about the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States” with the signing of the Newlands Joint Resolution in 1898.

Many argue that this annexation was illegal as U.S. law requires a treaty rather than a resolution for annexation. The Apology Resolution has also acknowledged and apologized for America’s part in the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

“This is the era for the United States to review its past injustices to its own people and to those of other independent states,” Aoloa Patao, who started the petition, wrote in Civil Beat. “McKinley High School perpetuates and lauds a name and a man who seemingly did wonders in the eyes of many Americans, but truth be told, his legacy in Hawaii was imperialistic, dishonorable and a violation of international law.”

Others, such as McKinley High Principal Ron Okamura told local media that a name change would slight generations of graduates.

The controversial petition currently has over 1000 signatures. However, Hawaii’s Department of Education told local media that it is a long process to change a name, starting from the school community.

"Growing up here, growing up local, growing up in the islands, I think that's one of the strongest bonds we have to our community is our high school," Okamura told HawaiiNewsNow.

Notable alumni of McKinley High School include the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Olympic gold medalist Duke Kahanamoku, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.