Two years after the pledge to rename the Confederate-named school, students wondered when the change would take place.

Brown v. Board education angered white racists at the time, and the school and others in the South were the result of opposing desegregation. Decades later, controversial buildings, especially Confederate monuments and schools named after Confederate figures, are the subject of debate throughout the South. Montgomery, the birthplace of the civil rights movement, is no exception.

In response to George Floyd’s death in 2020, many of these school districts in the South and beyond have committed to renaming schools named after the Confederate leader. It’s been over two years since the American race count, and some have been renamed.

But in the Montgomery school district, which is 80 percent African American, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Sidney Lanier are still named at three high schools.

When a statue of Robert E. Lee in front of the school named after him was toppled by protesters in 2020, County Board of Education Chairman Claire Weil called it a turning point.

“When it happened, it was kind of a wake-up call for all of us that it’s time to take care of the old business,” she told CNN. was named after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Jeff Davis was named in 1968 shortly after the merger took place.In my opinion, these are all hateful acts. Yes, it’s time to rename them.”

But school board member Letha Keith said changing the name would be more divisive than beneficial. It divided us as a community and as a city,” said Keith.

Despite Keith’s objections, the school board received enough votes to rename all three schools in July 2020.

One of the members of the renaming committee, Reverend John Gilchrist, said the committee will start in April 2021 and will include not only student representatives from the three Montgomery high schools, but also community leaders, elected by the principal. said. board.

Gilchrist, whose son graduated from the school in 2015, also said the name change was trivial unless the focus was on improving education and the school system.

“This is more than just a name change. And what does the name change promote? What does the name do? Does the name change improve education? Will the change improve education? “Will my children be safer? Will a name change improve the profits or facilities of teachers in schools? A name change will do all that. would you?”

The Sydney Lanier School Alumni Association also opposed the school’s name change, arguing that Lanier, a poet who had served in the Confederate Army, was improperly grouped with Davis and Lee. The Montgomery Advertiser reportedEarlier this year, the school board finally passed to merge Lanier High School with another high school, removing the need for a new name.

‘We need to be honest about history’

Just weeks into office, superintendent Melvin Brown is determined to see the name disappear. While acknowledging the frustration of some school board members and alumni about being part of the white Southern heritage of the United States, it says the community needs to be honest about the complexities of these histories.

Brown was raised in Lee’s birthplace in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

“I learned the history as soon as I could speak,” Brown said. “But I know that history has not always been taught in a complete and accurate way, and after years of doing my own reading and knowing both sides of the story, I have come to fully understand the big picture.” I’ve understood.”

Lee “may have been a great military tactician…at the same time he was a slave trader. At the same time he led a rebellion against his country,” said Brown.

Even among historians, Lee’s tactics have come under great scrutiny – most notably his style of leadership on the battlefield and his penchant for needless aggression. Like , he suffered from poor maps and an unprepared staff, but he also had problems of his own, writes historian Joseph Glatter.

“His most egregious problem was repeating the mistakes that surfaced in his first campaign. Lee tried to coordinate too many independent columns. Multiplied by …. what Lee achieved with the audacity of his plans and the battle against reduced aggression with ineffectiveness. He wrote in “Relationships between People”.

However, it is important for proponents of the name change to understand how the Montgomery school got its name.

The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) — a non-profit organization whose mission is to challenge racial and economic injustice — founded Lee High School in 1954 in retaliation for Brown v. the Board of Education. It is said to have been named US school.

In 1968, shortly after the merger, Jefferson Davis High School was named. According to EJI in 2020 report.

“However, a federal court later admitted that the school apparently served only white children. The school was located in a ‘predominantly white neighborhood of Montgomery’ and was ‘in the general neighborhood.’ It was built to accommodate only the number of white students who live there.”, featuring the school name and school emblem. [featuring the Confederate battle flag] It is designed to give the impression that it is a predominantly white school.

EJI reports that across the country, there were concerted efforts to combat efforts for racial equality in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Many schools were given Confederate-themed names … Governors to resist what Southern states called ‘mass resistance’ – racial integration of public schools. , lawmakers, and other white leaders launched a coordinated effort,” the EJI report said. .

Seniors at Robert E. Lee High School, which is predominantly black today, told CNN they are looking forward to change.

“We have to cut all ties,” said 17-year-old Z’karia Marshall.

Ariana Brooks, 17, echoed the sentiment. “It has to happen now. It has to change.”

“I have a lot of work to do”

In Atlanta, Forest Hills Academy, named after Confederate general and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, is now Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy. The Lee Magnet School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is now the Liberty Magnet School.

The Black Statue is the only monument standing on the historic street in the former Confederate capital.
But in Montgomery, one of the main obstacles holding back school boards is Alabama Memorial Preservation ActProhibits “the removal, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of monuments on public property” for more than 40 years, signed by Governor Kay Ivey in 2017.
earlier this yearthe Alabama Legislative Commission introduced two bills aimed at further protecting Confederate memorials and criminalizing those who attempt to remove them. The fine for removing a monument increases from a fixed $25,000 to $5,000 for each day the monument is not restored.
Claire Weil, County Board of Education Chairperson in Montgomery, Alabama.

Weill said he could face hefty fines if he changed the school name without state approval.

“If we can’t get permission from them, there are funds raised to pay those fines,” she said.

And changing everything from signage to letterhead to uniforms will cost you a lot more. It’s a price tag that the school district doesn’t decide.

But as superintendent, Brown says, whatever the price, it’s worth it.

Jacquelyne Germain and Camila Moreno Lizarazo contributed to this report.


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