A slew of online petitions surfaced this week, fueling the politicized narrative to re-brand Texas public schools named for historical figures linked to the Confederacy.
On Wednesday evening, officials at Midland Independent School District in the Permian Basin responded to such an online petition. It called for renaming Robert E. Lee High School. In a press release, administrators acknowledged they were “aware of the national conversation surrounding confederate symbols,” alluding to the recent violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Still, Midland ISD underscored the importance “for this community to understand board policy guides the naming of a school.”
In the late 1950s, Midland ISD taxpayers passed a $3.5 million bond for a new high school which the school board voted to name after Lee. The campus opened in 1961.
According to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, 1997 Lee High School graduate John Norman authored the petition and headed up an alumni group pushing for the renaming effort. His online appeal called upon Midland ISD Superintendent Orlando Riddick and Midland Mayor Jerry Morales to change the school’s name.
“Though what we know to be true of Robert E. Lee is not new information, in light of the recent events in Charlottesville and the surge of organized white supremacy groups in this country, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, I believe it is time for Midland, Texas, to do what is right and end the commemoration of a confederate general by changing the name of the high school,” the petition stated. While its petitioner praised Midland ISD for graduating oodles of successful professionals in many disciplines and in “all races and ethnicities,” it condemned Lee as a “symbol of racism, hate, violence, and white supremacy.”
Rick Davis, Midland ISD school board president, remarked in the release: “I understand the sensitivity of this issue, however it is still my impression that this community wants us to continue to focus our time and resources in improving education for all our students.”
Norman told the Midland newspaper the petition had more than 100 supporters but Breitbart Texas could not verify this figure. The petition was not accessible through the link. An error page indicates that the petition “is no longer accepting responses.”
“The interesting thing about a social media petition, is that it can be agreed to, responded from, and ‘signed’ by anyone in the world, related to or not related to our community,” remarked Riddick in a prepared statement. He suggested Norman’s petition was not “directly related to the will of the Midland community.”
In San Antonio’s North East ISD, those angling for a name change launched Denounce White Supremacy by Renaming San Antonio’s “Robert E. Lee” High School. The petitioners recall the violence in Charlottesville, praising a “group of brave counter-protesters” who rallied against white supremacists. Breitbart News reported that among that amalgam of counter-protesters were members of the violent left-wing “anti-fascist” group known as Antifa. The petition then takes a swipe at President Trump’s response to the violence. So far, it has received 3,400 of its desired 5,000 signatures.
Conversely, North East ISD supporters to Keep the Name of Robert E. Lee High School only said Lee was a “great leader and smart man,” and changing the school’s name was “not reasonable.” It accrued 5,300 of a 7,500 supporter goal, so far.
On Monday, 200 Tyler residents packed a conference room for their school board’s monthly meeting. Although not on the agenda, many spoke during public comments. Some addressed issues of oppression, systemic racism, healing racial tensions, and hopefulness as reasons to unload the school’s name. Others said changing a school’s name cannot change history or fix underlying issues. A Vietnam War veteran likened this to a war on American history. A few posed, “where does this stop?” For more than an hour, residents respectfully debated if Tyler ISD should or should not rename their Robert E. Lee High School–which opened in 1958. Change.org petitions immediately followed.
The online petition RENAME Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, states its supporters “do not seek to erase history” only do “what is just and respectful in commemorating the past for all Tylerites.” They claim their effort “is not about politics” but about “protecting the integrity” of the city. It condemns white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other race supremacists, intolerance, bigotry, racism, and Lee as “the face of the Confederacy.” It even postulates Lee as “eternalized in battle between Americans who revere him as a champion of state rights and Southern autonomy” and “those who understand him as a symbol of slavery.” As of press time, it had 680 supporters. It seeks 1,000.
In another offering, Help Heal Our Racial Divide, Honor General Lee’s Dying Wishes: Change the Name, author DG Montalvo, a longtime Tyler resident and minister. His petition has 373 names toward a goal of 500 supporters.
Interestingly, on Thursday morning, the six-day-old petition pleading “do not change the name” of Tyler ISD’s Lee High reached 9,972 out of its targeted 10,000 signatures.
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