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Restore McKinley’s Rightful Name: Honolulu High School
The school was renamed nearly 100 years ago in tribute to the late president for bringing about the annexation of Hawaii. A growing number of petition signers say the school's name only deepens the wound of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

About the Author

  • Aoloa Patao
    Born and raised in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Aoloa received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and recently moved from Honolulu back to Hawaii Island residing now in Niulii, Kohala. Aoloa is determined to learn as much of Hawaii's true history and practices as possible, as well as kokua to correct any wrongdoings done to Hawaii, its land and people.

A few months ago, I created a petition to restore Oahu’s President William McKinley High School to one of its original names, Honolulu High School. In 1865, the school, much smaller at the time, was established as Fort Street English Day School and then renamed as Honolulu School in 1895. In 1907, it was again renamed to honor the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, because, according to the school’s website, his “influence helped to bring about the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.”

With all the research, dialogue and history that’s been surfacing during the current Mauna Kea and Thirty Meter Telescope issue, there is an increase of understanding of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the prolonged illegal occupation and annexation of Hawaii. My intention with this petition is to further reveal Hawaii’s truth, generate more voice for the host culture and correct a wrong.

On July 7, 1898, President William McKinley signed the “Newlands Resolution,” which was passed by Congress, unilaterally annexing Hawaii. But a joint resolution can lawfully do no such thing. The only way to annex another country outside of your country’s borders is through a ratified treaty, which the United States, after two failed attempts, did not possess.


Annexation ceremonies for Hawaii on Aug. 12, 1898.

Hawaii State Archives via Wikimedia

Additionally, Hawaii’s people wanted no part in being annexed, as evidenced by the 21, 269 Kuʻe Petition signatures and an official protest of treaty of annexation by Queen Liliuʻokalani in 1897, submitted by hand in Washington, D.C., and formally accepted by the U.S. Congress.

Furthermore, the U.S. president at the time of the overthrow in 1893, Grover Cleveland, signed the Cleveland-Lili‘uokalani Agreement — an executive order in which the president apologized for the United States’ role in the coup, which was led by its ambassador to the Hawaiian Kingdom and promised restitution and the full restoration of the Hawaiian government. The kingdom still awaits the enforcement of this executive order.

As executive orders are law in the United States’ domestic legal order, the Cleveland-Lili‘uokalani Agreement is U.S. law that must be enforced. Until such time as it is, the United States continues to illegally occupy these islands as a consequence of the Spanish-American war, which started in 1898. The United States rationalized that it needed to invade the Hawaiian Kingdom and occupy it in order to fortify the war effort against Spain.

As the kingdom declared itself a neutral state in 1854, the United States is guilty of multiple grievous violations of international law and treaties of friendship and commerce with the kingdom. It is the responsibility of the United States to extricate itself from the territory of the kingdom and restore friendly relations.

This Type of Change Is Happening

In recent news, President Barack Obama announced on Aug. 30 that Mount McKinley in Alaska would officially be renamed Mount Denali — a name that the indigenous Athabascan people had been calling it long before a gold prospector, William Dickey, named the mountain to honor McKinley in 1896.

In South Carolina, the Confederate flag was taken down this past July after 54 years of being raised on its capitol grounds. To many, the flag is a symbol of support for white supremacy and racism. After a 21-year-old white man murdered nine African American people in a Charleston church, the movement and support to remove the flag was stronger than ever and prevailed.

On Dec. 16, 2013, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville, Fla., unanimously voted to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. Forrest was a Confederate general during the Civil War. Under his command at the Battle of Fort Pillow, Forrest’s troops massacred black soldiers following a Union surrender. He was also a founding member of the infamous Ku Klux Klan and served as the Klan’s first grand wizard.

This is the era for the United States to review its past injustices to its own people and to those of other independent states.

Even in our own back yard, this type of wrongdoing has been deservingly amended. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the political science building was named Porteus Hall in 1974 after psychologist, Stanley D. Porteus. Students at the university declared — with evidence of Porteus’ 1926 book, “Temperament and Race” — that his work was sexist and racist against Chinese, Hawaiians, Japanese, Portuguese and Filipinos, among other populations. In 1998, the name was removed, and the building renamed Saunders Hall three years later after educators Allan and Marion Saunders.

This is the era for the United States to review its past injustices to its own people and to those of other independent states. The United States must no longer use the name, “the State of Hawaii,” and must instead refer to the Hawaiian Islands as “the Hawaiian Kingdom.” It must remove its symbols of imposed injustices over the Hawaiian Kingdom from the territory, just as historical wrongs are being righted on Mount Denali, in South Carolina, in Jacksonville, Fla., and at UH Manoa.

An Injection of American Patriotism

A year before Honolulu High School was renamed after McKinley, the “Programme for Patriotic Exercises in the Public Schools” was created and implemented on campuses throughout Hawaii. Its purpose was a “patriotic exercise of not more than 10 minutes duration, to be used as a regular opening or closing of each school day.” The program requested:

  • Formation and Salute to Flag: raising the right hand, forefinger extended, and repeat the pledge: “We give our heads and our hearts to God and our Country! One Country! One Language! One Flag!” (One of three options).
  • Morning Prayer (in unison): “The Lord’s Prayer” (one of three options).
  • Patriotic Song: “Star Spangled Banner” and “Yankee Doodle” (two of 12 options).
  • Patriotic Topics For Day: formal talks of important American men, special dates, history, current events, descriptions of various landscapes and recite quotes and recitations. “Let our object be our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country”—Daniel Webster (one of 66 quotes/recitations).

Think about that concept. Nine years after 21, 269 signatures of the Kuʻe Petitions were presented to the U.S. Congress, this program was injected in Hawaii to brainwash children all the way to the current generation with American propaganda. It forced us to become patriotic Americans who speak only U.S. English, live American culture and take on an American identity that Hawaiian Kingdom subjects expressly opposed through protest.

This created a significant conflict between parents and children in the early-to-mid 1900s that in some households persists even today. Over time, the American ways became the norm in the Hawaiian Kingdom, wiping out all aspects and connections to a Hawaiian language, culture and identity. I am a product of that cultural brainwashing.


President William McKinley, whose administration sought the annexation of Hawaii.

McKinley High School cannot and should not be called McKinley High School. I am not a graduate of that school, but like the generations before me, I have been affected by President McKinley’s use of his presidential power to pass the unilateral Newlands Resolution to attempt a “legitimate annexation.” If the name isn’t changed, generations after me, will be affected, too.

McKinley alumni may feel as if I am stepping over my boundaries and have no right to call for a name change of their alma mater. I completely understand, but there are alumni who desire liberty and justice for all, as well as the rule of law.

A 2008 graduate of McKinley, Bryston Souza-Tanigawa, says, “During my time as a McKinley student, I was never taught the true history of Hawaii. As I became more educated on the subject, I realized that McKinley was not a person I wanted to represent or celebrate.” I want to reiterate here that it’s not “renaming,” but restoration of the name of Honolulu High School. This is the truth, and it is the right thing to do.

Some may put William McKinley on a pedestal — figuratively and literally — such as U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (like McKinley, an Ohio politician), who said, “… it is a testament to his great legacy” when he spoke of the reason McKinley’s name was on the Alaskan mountain. But in Hawaii, we cannot do or think the same. 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.

Of course, the school could remain McKinley High School under one condition: if someone were to present the treaty of annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Voices from the Petition

The following are comments left by some of the 635 individuals who have signed my petition already. (For more information or to sign the petition, click here.)

“I’m a McKinley graduate and was appalled and embarrassed when I read about who William McKinley was and what he did, years after graduating. ‘Honolulu HS’ offers pride with more direct connection to the history of the school being the first public school on Oahu. Also, could keep the Black & Gold Tigers and other traditions. Replace the statue with a different true hero…” — Sally Nhomi of Honolulu

“McKinley High School is named after [an] international criminal. Restore the honor of school by restoring its rightful name, Honolulu High School.” — Isaac Harp of Kamuela

“I am a McKinley alumni, and I want the name of this school changed. Mahalo for the opportunity.”— Fehren Jones of Honolulu

“I attended and graduated from this high school, and knowing the history of the overthrow back then I was ashamed to go to a school named after the sole individual that influenced and controlled this unlawful acquisition of the Kingdom of Hawaii.” — Michael Tui of Flat Rock, N.C.

“As a former student of this school, I prefer the name Honolulu High School for all the reasons stated here and much more.” — Leimaile Quitevis of Waianae