Dallas School Trustee Weighs Re-Branding Campus Named for Democrat Klan Mayor

thornton_building
DISD
Dallas, TX

A trustee for the Dallas Independent School District signaled that more school names may be on the chopping block. This follows the school board’s vote last week to approve re-branding four elementary schools named for Confederate-linked historical figures. However, a latest pair of namesakes have no ties to the Confederacy.

Dallas ISD District 6 trustee Joyce Foreman told WFAA Sunday that parents approached her about renaming Robert L. Thornton Elementary School and the William Hawley Atwell Middle School/Law Academy.

Breitbart Texas reported that Robert L. Thornton, the Democrat mayor of Dallas from 1953 to 1961, was a prominent Ku Klux Klan member. In August, area black activist James Dunn started an online petition to remove Thornton’s name from portions of two local freeways that bear his name and rebrand them as Barack Obama Freeway in response to the violence that erupted at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, the petition veered off into an anti-Trump tirade alleging “Trump’s closest advisors are white nationalists” and KKK members out “to destroy” Obama’s legacy. The petition vowed to work towards getting Obama’s name on roadways throughout the United States and countries around the world. To date, it received only 292 signatures of its 50,000 goal.

Former Dallas city Councilwoman Sandra Crenshaw recently called for removing a statue of Thornton located downtown’s Fair Park, a designated city and national historic landmark, and the site of the annual Texas state fair. Breitbart Texas reported that Crenshaw, a Democrat and founder of the Dallas Area Black Americans for Democracy, protested the removal of the equestrian bronze monument of Robert E. Lee, likening the city’s efforts to erase all Confederate monuments, symbols, and images as a misguided attempt to eradicate racism.

Thornton’s name also came up briefly at the September 19 meeting of the 20-member Mayor’s Task Force on Confederate Monuments, although the conversation about the Klansman’s likeness at Fair Park fizzled. By this time, this committee functioned in a diminished capacity. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings created the task force in response to the Charlottesville violence, dubbing these historical artifacts “monuments of propaganda.” The city council led by Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway escalated the process to remove them.

The other Dallas ISD campus Foreman mentioned, the William Hawley Atwell Middle School/Law Academy, caters to at-risk students and serves largely a black and Hispanic population. Foreman told WFAA she was “open” to looking into a new namesake since the community expressed interest. “William Atwell was a judge who fought against desegregation,” she said.

Atwell, appointed by President William McKinley, was U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas from 1898 to 1913. According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), he criticized the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 as an outgrowth of the failure to enforce the law. A year later, President Warren G. Harding appointed Atwell to the federal bench where he presided over the first public school desegregation cases in Dallas during the middle 1950’s. Atwell believed the U.S. Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries in the landmark 1954 desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. He asserted the ruling was “based on sociological opinion rather than the law.” In 1957, Atwell told reporters that he considered segregation “neither immoral nor unconstitutional.”

Last Thursday, Dallas ISD school board members voted 9-0 to rebrand four elementary schools named for Confederate generals Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson, William L. Cabell, and Robert E. Lee. Trustees intended to waive existing school name change policy rules to fast track replacement name submissions by December. However, a heated two-hour plus discussion ended with the board giving the four schools until February 1 to submit new names. If approved, the new names will go into effect on July 1, 2018. NBCDFW reported Lee Elementary already chose Geneva Heights as its future moniker, reflecting the surrounding geographical community. District officials estimated the cost to update these four campuses at around $150,000. That includes marquees, dedication plaques, sculptures, and artwork. School district staffers indicated much of the expense can be absorbed with bond money since school interior and exteriors are due for updating.

Last year, Breitbart Texas reported that Dallas ISD students attending John B. Hood Middle School renamed their campus Piedmont Global Academy after the Piedmont Grove section of southeast Dallas which houses the school. This name change followed a nationwide push to dump symbols reminiscent of the Old South and the Confederacy following the 2015 fatal shootings of nine black parishioners in South Carolina.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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