Petition to rename Lee High School in Huntsville, AL as Paulette R. Turner High School
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This is a petition to rename Lee High School (located at 2500 Meridian St. N, Huntsville, AL 35811) as Paulette R. Turner High School, replace the 5 Star Generals mascot with the Trailblazers mascot, and change the school colors from blue and gray to blue and white. Paulette Turner was a trailblazer herself when she became the first African American student to integrate Lee High School in 1964.
Lee High School History: Lee High School was established in 1957 during the early years of the American Civil Rights Movement. At the time, many Huntsville natives were reluctant to relinquish the Jim Crow system of segregation that was a way of life in Alabama, and they were desperate to hold onto the past. Therefore, they named the new school after Robert E. Lee, the general who led Confederate troops during the Civil War and who fought to maintain the enslavement of African Americans. Why isn’t there a “Robert E.” in front of the Lee you might ask? This is because the Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery had opened two years before in 1955, and there could not be two “Robert E. Lee” High Schools in the state of Alabama. However, there can be no doubt of who the school was named for. In honor of Lee, the mascot of the school is a five-star general, and the school’s colors, reminiscent of the Confederate uniforms, are blue and gray. The school's first newspaper, which is no longer published, the Traveller, was named for Lee's horse, and was also the school’s first mascot. Lastly, the original Lee High Dance Team was called the Confederettes. Opened three years after the Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) which outlawed school segregation in America, the naming of the school was a clear statement that Lee High School was for white students only and that Huntsville City Schools had no intention of complying with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Who is Paulette Turner? On the morning of September 2nd, 1964, 31 African American children entered previously all-white schools in Huntsville, Alabama. Of the 31, only one, Paulette Reddick, chose to come to Lee High School. As she entered Lee, she walked into a school with hundreds of white faces, including a mural of Confederate General Robert E. Lee waving a Confederate flag painted on the wall of the gym. Despite the many challenges she faced being the only black student at Lee that year, she thrived and became a member of the National Honor Society, Latin Club, Girl’s Chorus, and the Acapella Choir.
After becoming Lee High School’s first African American graduate, she went on to earn her degree from Rockford College in Illinois and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Texas. After a long career as an IBM executive where she led professional and leadership development for the America’s sales force, she became the founder of Integrated Leadership Concepts, Inc. which coaches and develops leaders to thrive in a changing world.
In 2017, over 50 years later, Paulette Turner came back to Lee High School to speak to our students about her experience here and inspire them to strive for success. To honor her, the Student Government Association created the “Paulette Turner Ambassador of Change Award” to be given each year to honor a young woman in the senior class who exemplifies courage, perseverance, and commitment to positive change, traits which she exhibited when she integrated Lee High School in 1964.
Why change the name? The Lee High School community and student body looks very different today than it did at the time of it’s opening in 1957. We have gone from being 100 percent white in 1957 to nearly 70 percent African American in 2017. Each and every day, our students deserve to enter a building with a name that lifts them up, inspires them, and gives them hope in the face of adversity. Similar to Dr. Mae C. Jemison after whom our rival school was recently renamed, Paulette Turner is a role model for our students, and her courage and perseverance through a very difficult situation as she integrated Lee High School in 1964 is inspirational to us all.
Students, teachers, and community members deserve a school named after someone that all, not just some, can admire. Robert E. Lee is not that person. Despite any positive characteristics of Robert E. Lee, he was a slaveowner and a white supremacist. Anyone and anything associated with the Confederate cause, in general, have since been associated with hate, racism, and intolerance, none of which have a place at Lee High School. Although many people do not view the symbols and names of the Confederacy that way, many other people do, many of our students do, and because of that fact change is necessary in order to make our school a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds.
The city of Huntsville has always been a trailblazer for the state of Alabama in many ways and our community as a whole was the first to make many great strides in favor of civil rights, consistently going against the grain of Alabama and its leadership in the early 1960’s. Although Huntsville, like most other Southern cities, sought to delay integration for as long as possible, the fact of the matter is that our community allowed it to happen first and with much less conflict than cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, Anniston, and Tuscaloosa. From being the first city in the state to desegregate its K-12 public schools, to the peaceful integration of the University of Alabama in Huntsville the day after governor George C. Wallace’s “stand at the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, to the integration of the city in general (businesses, theatres, restaurants, etc.), Huntsville was a leader for the state. This name change campaign is an opportunity for Huntsville to again be at the forefront of positive change and support for all of its citizens, especially the current student body of Lee High School.
Change is hard, but it is also necessary in order to move forward as a society. Although the past must not be forgotten, we must not celebrate people who do not represent what we believe as a school community and are not positive role models for our students both now and in the future, and continuing to let the Robert E. Lee name live on is doing just that. This school is far overdue for a name change. Although this change will mean that the Lee High School community can no longer be a FamiLee, we will always be a family regardless of our name.
Please sign this petition (form located on the back of the second piece of paper) and help try to make a positive change to our school’s name.
Historical Timeline of Huntsville School Desegregation
1896 – The Supreme Court Case Plessy vs. Ferguson occurred. The case had nothing to do with schools, but when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that railroads could provide "separate but equal" passenger cars for whites and blacks, it made segregation the law of the land. This resulted in segregated schools throughout the South, and the public schools for blacks were far from equal to those for the whites.
1954 – The Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas occurred. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the doctrine of separate but equal. "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren. Officially, school segregation in America was outlawed, but it would take many years before many Southern states would acknowledge that ruling and desegregate their schools.
1955 – The U.S. Supreme Court orders desegregation of all American schools with "all deliberate speed."
1963 – Eight years later, schools in Alabama were still segregated. By 1963, Alabama Governor George C. Wallace had emerged as the leading opponent to the growing civil rights movement. On June 11, 1963, he gained international notoriety for his stand in the door of the University of Alabama to block the entrance of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, who had been order admitted by a federal judge. He did everything he could to keep his promise of “segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever!”
1963 – Against the outcry of Governor Wallace, on Sept. 9, 1963 four black children integrated Huntsville City Schools at Fifth Avenue school to become the first children to desegregate a previously all-white school in the State of Alabama. The first student to take that step was Sonnie Hereford IV.
1964 - The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives the federal government authority to forcibly desegregate schools. 10 more black students enter previously all-white schools in Huntsville in January for the spring semester.
1964 – On the morning of September 2nd, 1964, 31 additional black children enter previously all-white schools in Huntsville. The schools affected were Fifth Avenue Elementary, one student; Farley Junior High, two; Madison Pike Elementary, eleven; Terry Heights, one; Westlawn, two, Butler High, 23; Huntsville High, four, and Lee High, one (Paulette Reddick).
More Information on Robert E. Lee: If you are not convinced, please read more about General Robert E. Lee. Several article and book suggestions are listed below to help better inform you of why we must change our school’s name.
- The Myth of the Kindly General Lee by Adam Serwer, published June 4, 2017: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/the-myth-of-the-kindly-general-lee/529038/
- Arlington, Bobby Lee, and the 'Peculiar Institution' by Ta-Nehisi Coates, published August 13, 2010: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/arlington-bobby-lee-and-the-peculiar-institution/61428/
- How Robert E. Lee went from hero to racist icon by Russell Contreras, published August 13, 2017: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-robert-lee-hero-racist-icon-20170813-story.html
- Alabama's Confederate flags down. Are school mascots next? by Erin Edgemon, published June 25, 2015: http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/06/is_it_time_to_rename_public_sc.html
- Making Sense of Robert E. Lee, Roy Blount, Jr., published July 2003. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/making-sense-of-robert-e-lee-85017563/
- Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, published May 3, 2007 by Elizabeth Brown Pryor
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