RENAME Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas
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STAND WITH ALUMNI TO RENAME ROBERT E. LEE HIGH SCHOOL! We do not seek to erase history. We seek to do only what is just and respectful in commemorating the past. It is within our power, fellow Tylerites, to make our city a better place for all.
The following was sent to the TISD Board of Trustees on August 18, 2017:
Dear Tyler Independent School District Board of Trustees:
We address you as members of the Robert E. Lee High School graduating class of 2012 and proud fellow Texans.
The collective gaze of our nation is expectantly fixed on Charlottesville, Virginia. Last Saturday, a sea of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other race supremacists flooded the streets of this historical Southern city, armed with torches and hateful speech, and created a scene disturbingly reminiscent of some of the darkest periods in our country’s history. These hateful and intolerant men and women marched not only to espouse their bigoted ideology. Central to their racist demonstration was a call for the protection of controversial statues, monuments and other commemorations to the Confederacy, still looming over our Southern communities – our high school being one of them.
General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army, the man we honor on our football jerseys, in our school song and on our diplomas, is eternalized in battle between Americans who revere him as a champion of state rights and Southern autonomy and those who understand him as a symbol of slavery. The native Virginian took up arms against the Union to defend his state. Yet, those who are inclined to defend Lee as a morally upright Southerner fulfilling a patriotic obligation to defend his home ignore the heart of the issue. White supremacy cannot be omitted in our understanding and discussion of the Civil War. Robert E. Lee is the face of the Confederacy; the Confederacy united behind the enslavement of millions. Ignoring these facts to defend “tradition” is a disservice to our minority students, teachers and administrative staff and our community at large.
In the aftermath of the tragic events of Charlottesville, cities and towns around the country are participating in similar conversations regarding their own memorials to figures and symbols of the Confederacy. Some are justifying removing statues or moving them into museums for historical context. Others, such as our neighboring Dallas, are creating task forces to consider how to sensibly contextualize Confederate symbols. Changes to school names are also not unprecedented; Texas has in recent years seen changes to the names of at least ten public schools, including Houston Independent School District’s own Robert E. Lee High School. Considering these initiatives happening in other parts of our state and country, we must consider what maintaining a “Robert E. Lee” High School would mean for Tyler. If such utterly racist and bigoted individuals as those we saw in Charlottesville are choosing to rally behind symbols of Lee and the Confederacy, we should do everything in our power to dissociate ourselves from them and disavow their cause. The citizens of Tyler, Texas share no ideological ground with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and fascists.
Ideology aside, from the most practical standpoint, we should think about our students and alumni. If our goals are to promote our scholarship, our athletics, our band and orchestra; if we strive, as a district, to instill in our students a pride in their school that they may carry with them as they cross county and state lines to attend college; and if we truly seek to create limitless possibilities for our graduates, then we must consider the connotation of the text that bleeds onto their transcripts and diplomas. We cannot ignore how this shift in our country’s sentiment toward Confederate figures will affect our high school’s image. We recognized some decades ago that waving a Confederate flag and calling our mascot the “Rebel” worked against our school pride - it is time we go one step further.
In light of this, we propose to you a revision to our high school’s name. Tyler has had no shortage of honorable men and women throughout the years that could now replace Lee, a man who had no roots to our city and who made no contributions to its prosperity. Some will argue that the name of our high school rightfully represents our legacy and a change would somehow erase past occurrences. We do not seek to forget history. Let us learn it and let us learn from it in proper context. Lee himself did not wish to build memorials in his name and his descendants now publicly support dismantling them. Our proposal is not about politics. It is about protecting the integrity of our city, something we cannot do if we continue to idealize the symbols of our divided and violent past.
We urge you, distinguished Board of Trustees, to consider the impact of this issue for future generations of TISD graduates and permanently rename Robert E. Lee High School. Thank you.
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