BAYTOWN – Opinions vary widely on whether the Robert E. Lee High School name should be changed. Below is one person’s opinion, and you are invited to send us yours for possible publication. The Goose Creek school board will consider this at their next meeting in September, and may make a decision at that time.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter regarding the name change of Robert E. Lee. I was born and raised in Baytown, as was my father and grandparents. I went to Lee and graduated in 1994. I am in support of changing the school’s name to something that better embodies who we are as Baytownians. I have a Master’s Degree in United States History and teach at Austin Community College. I say that because I feel I have the education and expertise to speak on the issue of who Robert E. Lee was, what he stood for, and why the school’s name is hurtful to African Americans in our community. Please understand that this is not a “new” issue. People have been pushing to change the name for decades, and we have failed to hear them for decades. We are better than that.
In high school I remember watching students parade the Confederate flag around every football season. I engaged in debates then trying to explain how hurtful and cruel that was to our African American friends, and I was met with backlash. It was cruel then. It is cruel now. African Americans in Baytown are our friends, family, classmates, and colleagues. They deserve to attend a school with a name that instills pride, strength, unity, and honor, all of the things Baytownians hold dear. Robert E. Lee does not do that. Lee was a traitor. He betrayed our nation when he participated in secession and led the war to keep African Americans in bondage. General Lee writ in 1856 that “the blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is Known and ordered by a wise and merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity, than the storms and tempests of fiery Controversy.” There is a debate amongst historians regarding the strength of his support of slavery. But whether he strongly or mildly supported slavery should not be the metric with which we use in determining whether a school should be named after him. He led a war that cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans in order to keep millions of African Americans in slavery. We are better than that.
I know many of those opposed to the name change argue that we are wanting to erase history and our traditions. There is a difference in preserving history in order to learn from it and celebrating those events. We do not seek to erase our history. We seek to celebrate the people embody the greatest virtues of our country. Naming any institution are a slave-owning traitor is not “preserving” history, but exalting those Americans who betrayed our country, our Constitution, as well as those who have died for this nation. It is cruel and abusive to expect generations of African Americans children to walk the halls of a school named after someone who fought to keep them in bondage. It does not instill pride in them. It is hurtful. They deserve more than that. We are better than that.
There are countless Americans to choose from who epitomized all the characteristics we want for our children and our community. Barbara Jordan was a warrior for education and was the first African American to be elected to the Texas Senate. John Lewis, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez were all giants who spent their lives serving this nation and fighting for the equality of all Americans. I could go on and on and on. We have no shortage of brilliant, courageous, and valiant Americans who represent the spirit of what it is to be a Gander and a Baytownian. It is times for us to do better and better. It is time to ensure that all Baytownians feel welcome, loved, safe, and proud as they walk through the halls of our schools. It is time for us to live up to who we say we are as a community. It is time to prove we are better than that.