Officials Grappling With Confederate Names on Public Schools

Jesse Holland, Washington Post, August 30, 2017

Robert E. Lee High School

Robert E. Lee High School student Kayla Wilson stands in front of her school. (Credit Image: Tom Reel/SanAntonio Express-News via ZUMA)

With a new school year dawning, education officials are grappling with whether to remove the names, images and statues of Confederate figures from public schools — especially since some are now filled with students of color.

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“It does not make sense to have schools named after individuals who were directly connected to that dark past, and force kids in Dallas, a majority minority population, to walk into these schools every day and have to face this past every single day,” said Miguel Solis, former board president and current board member of the Dallas Independent School District.

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“We don’t tolerate hate or discrimination of any form, and we are committed to providing an educational environment where all students can feel safe and welcomed at school,” said Superintendent Aurora Lora in Oklahoma City, where there are four schools named after Confederate generals.

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According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are at least 109 public schools named after Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons in the United States. Of those, “27 have student populations that are majority African-American, and 10 have African-American populations of over 90 percent,” according to the SPLC’s 2016 report.

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In Falls Church, Virginia, the school board has voted to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School. Stuart was a slaveholding Confederate general who was mortally wounded in an 1864 battle. In Montgomery, Alabama, the school board is looking at moving Lee’s statue from the front of majority-black Robert E. Lee High School.

In Arlington, Virginia, Robert E. Lee’s hometown, there is a move now to rename Washington-Lee High School.

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At some schools, the push for change starts with the students. In Greenville, South Carolina, student Asha Marie started a Change.org petition to rename Wade Hampton High School. Hampton was a Confederate cavalry commander during the Civil War and was later elected governor of South Carolina and criticized the Reconstruction era which put black leaders in political office.

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But another student, Austin Ritter, started a counterpetition to keep the name. “There is no need to change the school’s name,” Ritter wrote. “Changing the name of this school will also change its history. It will change everything the school has stood for. Everything the school has done.”

At others, alumni and outsiders are the ones sounding the call.

The debate over the Stuart name change in Falls Church kicked off in earnest in 2015 when actress Julianne Moore, who attended Stuart in the ‘70s, and Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen, a Stuart alumnus, launched a petition demanding the name change. In Alabama, it was a community activist who suggested moving the Lee statue out from in front of Robert E. Lee High School.

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