Anchorage School Board renames high school after Bettye Davis, Alaska’s 1st Black state senator

Bettye Davis (Courtesy photo)

Anchorage’s East High has a new name: the Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School.

The Anchorage School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to rename the school — one of the nation’s most diverse — after the late Bettye Davis, a trailblazing lawmaker and education advocate.

“I’m very, very proud to be able to make this motion,” said board member Deena Mitchell. “Sen. Davis was one of the fiercest people I knew.”

Davis was the first Black woman to be elected to Alaska’s state House of Representatives, and the first Black Alaskan elected to the state Senate. She also served three terms on the Anchorage School Board. She died in 2018 at age 80.

“It’s so appropriate to name East after the late Sen. Davis — the diversity, having it be one of our major feeder high schools,” said Mitchell, who introduced the amendment to rename East High after Davis.

The board’s vote Tuesday capped months of committee work, a flood of public testimony and, at times, contentious debate over which Anchorage school to rename in honor of Davis.

Last year, a panel formed by the city chose East High as its first pick, followed by Fairview Elementary and Airport Heights Elementary. Davis lived near East, and it’s also in the area she represented in the state Legislature. Then, a school district committee, citing results from a survey, proposed renaming Fairview Elementary and East High’s auditorium after the late senator.

During public testimony Tuesday night, more than a dozen people advocated for renaming East, including Celeste Hodge Growden, president of the Alaska Black Caucus. She said the committee’s survey was flawed. She described Davis as a champion for all children and East High as rich in diversity. They’re the perfect match, she said.

“We know change is hard, but we also know this change is right,” she said. “It’s time to move Anchorage forward, and I can’t think of a better time than now in our country’s history and Alaska’s history.”

Anchorage parent Kir Moore told the board that renaming East would “confer an honor of appropriate magnitude on Alaska’s first Black state senator.”

“This would show Anchorage’s diverse student body that we, as a community, celebrate diversity, equity and the accomplishments of Black people,” she said.

Others have argued that East High is deeply rooted in the city’s history and shouldn’t be renamed.

“To rename East High would be to lose over half a century of pride and history,” Molly Stoll wrote to the board.

Board member Margo Bellamy said Tuesday that she understood those concerns, but the school district had to look forward and think about how renaming the school would pass down Davis’ powerful legacy to future students.

“For every Black, brown, white child in this town, who would have the opportunity to know about Senator Davis — we need to make that happen,” she said.

The motion approved by the board also says the name East Anchorage High School will continue to be used for sports, and the Thunderbird mascot will remain the same.

Board member Starr Marsett called it a “win-win.”

“I think this will keep the tradition of East Anchorage High School as far as sports and activities and the Thunderbird,” she said. “Yet it also honors Bettye Davis’ name.”