An East Texas school district will keep the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on one of its high schools after trustees refused to second a motion on a vote calling for its removal.
In a special meeting Monday night, the seven-member Tyler Independent School District board of trustees met to vote on whether or not to re-brand two high schools named for Confederate historical figures, mainly Lee but also John Tyler. All board members shared their feelings on the issue. Only trustee Aaron Martinez and board President Fritz Hager, Jr., supported the name change.
“To those who say that keeping the name is honoring a legacy of hate need to be reminded that hate is a learned behavior,” stated Jean Washington, one of the board’s two black trustees. She suggested that Lee’s moniker should speak to people about “how far we have come and by how much more work we have to do” towards achieving equality. However, she criticized the issue as being “fueled” by individuals and groups “pursuing their own personal political agenda.”
Orenthia Mason called the vote a “challenging decision which, in the end, will result in no winners.” First elected as a trustee in 2005, she devoted 27 years to Tyler ISD as a teacher, a Title I coordinator, and a principal. Today, a pastor, Mason opposed the name change because of its politicization.
“Trustees are not political puppets, she said. “We are not making Democratic Party decisions or Republican Party decisions. We are making decisions that will impact the lives of children for generations to come. We must produce competent students and intelligent future leaders.”
She remarked the board was charged by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to put the “education of our students in the forefront.” She lamented that, instead, trustees find themselves on “the forefront of a cultural issue, a societal concern.”
To community critics, Mason, who is black, commented, “I grew up in segregated times.” She said, “I know the name Robert E. Lee has been associated with white supremacy.”
School board President Fritz Hager, Jr., who is white, fervently favored the name change. Also a pastor, Hager said he was a fourth cousin of Robert E. Lee, seven generations removed. He stated the renaming issue caused him to soul search. He called Lee an “icon” of the Confederacy and an “idol of white supremacists.”
Among Hager’s lenghly comments, he said Lee High was built three years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregation and the idea of “separate but equal” unconstitutional. He said 16 years later, federal courts “stepped” in, forcing Tyler ISD to integrate.
Board member Martinez then made a motion for the name change. No one spoke. Hager said, as president, he had the authority to second the motion but refrained from doing so because he wanted to remain neutral. No one seconded the motion. Thus, the motion was scrapped, ending any vote to rename Robert E. Lee High School.
In 1972, Tyler ISD removed its Confederate-themed “Rebel” mascot, the Confederate flag, and the school song “Dixie” but left Lee’s name. Reportedly, efforts to re-brand received little support. However, last year, Breitbart Texas reported on contentious Tyler ISD school board meetings calling for the name change. This followed a Charlottesville, Virginia, protest where white supremacists and Antifa anarchists clashed, triggering a politicized push nationwide to erase all historical things and individuals associated with the Confederacy.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.