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Utah Elementary School Changes Name to Honor NASA Engineer Instead of Andrew Jackson

Despite the name change, dozens of town and schools across the US are still named after Andrew Jackson.

Salt Lake City is officially changing the name of its oldest elementary school from Andrew Jackson Elementary to Mary Jackson Elementary. The name change came after the school board determined that an overwhelming majority of parents, school alumni, and members of the community supported the switch. The new name honors a prominent NASA engineer and woman of color rather than the slave-owning seventh President of the United State, who famously displaced and slaughtered Native Americans. 

Mary Jackson didn’t own slaves, but did rise through the ranks at NASA when it was nearly impossible for a black woman to do so, eventually becoming an engineer — and a damn good one at that. She was a crucial part of the success of Project Mercury, the US’s first human spaceflight program, which successfully future senator John Glenn into space and returned him to the surface of Earth. Project Mercury was a crucial precursor to the Apollo project, which put humans on the moon. Jackson’s accomplishments, as well as those of a handful of other black female NASA engineers, were the subject of the Oscar award winning movie Hidden Figures, in which she was played by the actor and musician Janelle Monáe.

The school’s name change is just one instance in a national movement that is seeing the name of America’s less admirable forefathers’ names stripped off of public institutions. Still, dozens of towns and cities across the country are still named after Andrew Jackson and his face remains on the $20 bill — though it will be phased out and replaced by that of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. To put this in broader perspective, there are still 200 schools named after men who fought agains the United States and for the Confederacy in the Civil War

Having her name put on a Utah school is just the latest honor for Jackson who had a lego minifig made of her last year as part of a celebration of NASA’s most important female engineers.