South Sound high school to be renamed for 94-year-old Tacoma educator

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma will soon have a new name. It will be the first school in Tacoma ever named for a Black woman.

That woman is a true trailblazer, 94-year-old Dr. Dolores Silas.

In her nearly 95 years, Dr. Silas has lived a life of many firsts.

“I was president of the Tacoma branch of the NAACP,” said Dr. Silas. “I was president of the Northwest area NAACP. I was first Black (person) on the Pierce County Health Board.”

But even before all of that, she was the first Black administrator in the Tacoma school district, then went on to be the first Black woman on the Tacoma City Council, then its first Black Deputy Mayor.

“You know we had parking spaces,” said Dr. Silas, laughing while looking at a sign with her name on her basement wall. “And so this, when I left, I took the sign with me.”

None of it, she says, was to gain special recognition.

“You just don’t go out there and say, ‘I’m going to do this and I’m going to be in the newspaper and on television,’” she said. “You do it because it’s right.”

Nor did she do it because one day a school would be named in her honor.

“Well, I didn’t think that far ahead,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t think that ever would happen to me.”

And it might not have happened.

“I am firmly opposed to changing the name of my alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High School,” said Kim Knox.

The issue was hotly debated before the Tacoma School Board.

“On the $400,000 price tag,” said David Morse, a Wilson High School alumni. “Do we need to be spending this money during a pandemic?”

But those most passionate about renaming the school were the board’s student representatives.

“A name change is not just a chance to be politically correct, but a chance to stand on the right side of history,” said Jazmin Pearson. “to foster a new truth.”

“I mean it’s a great school,” said Nathan Essman, a Wilson High student. “And that’s not going to change because the name changes. And I think the name change is probably going to make it even better, honestly.”

“If we’re not doing this now, when are we going to do it?” asked India Hill. “When is the perfect time to be anti-racist? When is the perfect time to take one step forward?”

Once the decision was made, Dr. Silas says she drove by Woodrow Wilson High School just once and parked.

Perhaps the next time she comes, hers will be the name displayed here.

When it is, it will a fitting capstone to a life devoted to education and public service, and the wisdom both of those bring.

“That the person born on the wrong side of the railroad tracks would have a name, a school named after her,” exclaimed Dr. Silas. “Now breathe on that. Breathe on that for a few minutes. And what does that tell you? Anything is possible. Anything is possible.”

Even her name atop a high school in Tacoma, a change set to happen July 1.

The next Tacoma school whose name is likely to change in a bid to better reflect diversity and inclusion is the Jason Lee Middle School.

Its new name is expected to honor the state’s Native American heritage.