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The debate over changing Confederate-named schools in HISD

Predictably, not everybody likes the idea of rechristening HISD schools that were named for Confederate generals.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Houston ISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has said she wants her fellow trustees to consider renaming six campuses, following the June shooting deaths of nine black worshipers by an alleged white supremacist at a church in South Carolina. In that state, the Confederate flag hangs on statehouse grounds.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and James Douglas, president of the NAACP of Houston, are among those requesting new names. Superintendent Terry Grier said he is seriously considering asking the board to approve changes.

A consensus is far from clear.

A Facebook page called “Reagan High School Houston – Save the Name” has received more than 1,200 “likes” since it launched June 28. Former Lee students mostly came to the moniker’s defense on an alumni page.

[…]

School officials stopped using the full name, Robert E. Lee High School, in 2001, though a district spokeswoman could not confirm whether the board formally approved the shorter version. The mascot remains the Generals, but the revised logo looks more like a silhouetted cowboy holding a school flag.

Marla Morrow, a U.S. history teacher at Lee and a 1980 graduate, recalled her classmates proudly waving the Confederate flag at football games. Then, the student demographics of the southwest Houston school were different. According to data from 1988, the earliest year readily available, Lee’s enrollment was 46 percent Anglo, 31 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black and 6 percent other. Last year, Lee was 4 percent Anglo, 74 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 8 percent Asian and other.

With HISD rebuilding the aging Lee campus, Morrow said the time is right to rename the school without reference to the top Confederate general.

“I was raised to believe he was this great mythical hero,” she said. “With my study of the Civil War and of U.S. history, I think he was an admirable man in many ways, but he was fighting for the wrong side. I know people say the South was fighting for states’ rights, but the right they were fighting to defend was slavery.”

Melanie Hauser, a 1971 Lee graduate who chaired the spirit committee and helped start the alumni association, countered that the school name should endure. She noted that Lee graduated from West Point and served as president of Virginia’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University, named after him).

“He was an educator first and foremost,” said Hauser, a sportswriter. “Lee moved on and helped heal the country. There’s more to the narrative than just screaming one way.”

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a 1987 Lee graduate, said he leans toward changing the name but wants a community dialogue first.

“It’s not to say we castigate our history forever,” he said, “but should it be prominent with every graduating class going forward when there’s an opportunity to pivot and change?”

See here for the background. I’ll say again, as a damn Yankee I’m woefully ignorant of the Confederate iconography that we are inescapably steeped in around here, and completely indifferent to any appeal to history or “heritage” in favor of keeping it in place, unless that place is a museum or the like. It’s fine by me to change these names, but if we don’t get there at least we’re talking about what those names represent. Campos has more.

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6 Comments

  1. John says:

    Kuff

    I am all for the school name changes. But why are you not similarly outraged by the democratic party fundraiser- Jefferson Jackson Dinners? Last I checked both of these gentleman owned slaves, your party should change the names of these dinners/fundraisers

  2. Mainstream says:

    Maybe Reagan High School could be renamed for President Ronald Reagan.

  3. Mainstream says:

    or former HISD superintendent Billy Reagan, although there is another school elsewhere named for him already.

  4. Steven Houston says:

    Apparently, naming after any person is wrong because all people are flawed and the name will surely offend someone at some point in time. Let’s just cut to the chase and relabel all schools “PS #…” and public buildings after their function. Then we can make all school mascots some geometric shape (“Let’s hear it for the green cube”), skipping a few that have acquired dual meanings (Imagine being at a school where the designated shape and color was “The Blue Balls” lol). That is the way appeasement works…

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    I find myself agreeing with Steven again. This is important stuff. We need to change all the names. I think we should also make Jerry Jones take down the Tom Landry statute because of this racist commercial:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Djd88kYoQEE

  6. […] Abbott doesn’t appear to care, as there’s no votes in it for him – but as with HISD schools, I favor having the conversation. And let’s be clear, these are monuments to people […]