By Tad Weber
FRESNO (Fresno Bee) – After a torturous process that dragged out over several months, the Fresno Unified School District trustees did the right thing Wednesday night, October 13, in renaming Forkner Elementary for one of the city’s star residents.
As of fall 2022, the school in northwest Fresno will become H. Roger Tatarian Elementary. That is important for three reasons.
First, Tatarian was a Fresno native who rose to become editor in chief of United Press International, one of the world’s two leading wire services. As such, he oversaw a news report that went to millions around the globe. Just on those merits alone, naming a school after Tatarian was deserved.
Second, Tatarian was an Armenian American. Fresno Unified has more than 100 campuses, and none had been named for an Armenian. The Armenian heritage in Fresno covers more than a century, having begun out of the genocide that started in 1915 in their European homeland, then controlled by Ottoman Turks. About 1.5 million Armenians died in that genocide, an event many historians think was a precursor to the Nazi Germany’s attempt to rid the world of Jews in the Holocaust.Third, Forkner refers to J.C. Forkner, a Fresno builder who developed Fig Garden. Forkner used deed restrictions that made buyers commit to not selling their homes to any “Asiatics, Mongolians, Hindus, Negroes, Armenians or any natives or descendants of the Turkish empire … .”
The practice morphed into red-lining by financial institutions, and effectively shut off home-purchasing opportunities to anyone from those groups. Fresno suffers today from the impacts of such race-based restrictions.