I just read on the KUT radio website an article titled “Parents Debate Name Change for Robert E. Lee Elementary” and I was wondering how many others were having this discussion.
As the article says, we’re discussing this over at Friends of Hyde Park. We’re having a vote that will go live today.
We have a pretty good discussion on the FoHP forum https://forum.friendsofhydepark.com/t/robert-e-lee-elementary/211
Also, the vote is live. You can check out the ballot, but only FoHP members can vote.
Rename Robert E. Lee Elementary
Supporters interested in joining the closed group on Facebook may send a request at www.facebook.com/groups/renameroberteleeelementary/
In the aftermath of the mass shooting of nine African Americans in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Americans are debating whether the namesakes and symbols representative of the Confederacy should continue to be honored in the ways they have been in the past. As alumni, parents of current and past Robert E. Lee Elementary School students, and members of the community, we believe it’s time to stake a clear position in that debate. While changing the name of our school has been brought up several times in the past, now is the time to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary to better reflect the values of the school and the community.
The name Robert E. Lee is alienating and doesn’t reflect our current values.
Just as President Obama pointed out with regard to the Confederate flag, many perceive the name “Robert E. Lee” to be a reminder of “systemic oppression and racial subjugation.” There are Black students (and other students of color) who feel that the name doesn’t represent them. There are families of all races in Austin who won’t send their children to a school named after a Confederate general. There are more that send their children anyway (because it’s a great school), but feel embarrassed by the name. The current half measure, informally calling it only “Lee,” is evidence of this tension, and an underlying recognition that the name is a problem. We don’t need to agree on all the larger questions of historical justice and memory to prefer to err in the direction of inclusiveness and respect for all.
The original naming of the school was itself a political act which reinforced segregation and misrepresented the facts and meaning of the Civil War.
Robert E. Lee Elementary was named in 1939, at a time when the property deeds in the Hancock neighborhood were for “Caucasians only.” Records suggest that the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group well known for their support of Jim Crow segregation and their interest in promoting the “Lost Cause” interpretation of southern defeat, was involved in the choice of the name. The school’s name was political from the start, and there’s no realistic way to keep politics out of this decision.
Changing the name does not erase history.
Some have suggested keeping the name of the school and initiating conversations with the students about the complexity of Robert E. Lee’s legacy. For many families, particularly Black families, these conversations have already been happening at home. While it is a laudable goal to blend the goals of these families with those of the school, it is unrealistic to expect teachers and administrators to continuously engage students in that conversation. Instead, we should change the name to better reflect our current values, and also aim to have an ongoing conversation about the history of the school that includes discussion of the former name and the reasons why the name was changed. We believe that cultural and political history is an ongoing process of making sense of the past in conversation with the present
We can maintain the connection between current students and past students.
Several community members have offered ideas for changing the name, but keeping “Lee” as a means of providing continuity for past, current, and future students. A strong option is renaming the school after another “Lee” who better symbolizes the community’s values. We all treasure the relationships formed in our school and want to maintain that sense of community and identity.