BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday, June 18 unanimously agreed to hear recommendations for a new name for Lee High School.
The school’s name again became the center of controversy as black American residents in the parish, in addition to other communities of color and organizations, questioned the purpose of continuing to “recognize” and “memorialize” the legacy of confederate commander Robert Edward Lee in a way typically associated with being an “honor.”
Lee’s legacy attracts scrutiny because he owned slaves and fought on battlefields and in courts to continue the enslavement of black Americans, historical records suggest.
The Southern Poverty Law Center published data suggesting dozens of public schools around the nation bear Lee’s name. Statues in several American cities were also erected to memorialize Lee.
Both have come under scrutiny as the country reaches a flash-point in discussions on race.
The vote Thursday will allow the school board to form a committee which will hold public meetings to develop a list of names.
That committee will recommend the top choices to the board.
The board can choose to take one of the recommended names, suggest a name itself, or decide not to make any change at all.
Upon approval of the new school name, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board would request that school officials remove all signage and school paraphernalia located on the school’s campus bearing the name “Lee High School” effective immediately.
“We are here in collective conscious to rectify a 75-year wrong,” said District 2 board member Dadrius Lanus. “Before we can begin to heal we must first begin to correct the mistakes of those who came before us.”
“Where on earth, besides topics like this, do we celebrate losers,” said District 5 board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson about Lee and the confederacy.
“If someone kidnapped your child and sold them, where would you like us to put the statue of them,” said Lanus.
Lanus proposed the initial document calling for the committee, however, board president Michael Gaudet introduced a substitute document that added an additional opportunity for public input which would potentially push the name change back to September.
Gaudet further added requirements that the school board provide $200,000 from its funds, and set up an additional fund for public donations for the name change.
Lanus argued Gaudet’s changes extended the time between the board’s decision and the name change. Lanus called Gaudet’s changes, “totally unacceptable.”
Ware-Jackson, District 4 board member Dawn Collins, and board vice president Tramelle Howard also said they would not support Gaudet’s substitute document because of the added delays.
Community members echoed those complaints saying Gaudet’s changes allowed board members to “take [their] sweet time.”
Gaudet withdrew his document in response to the backlash.
During discussions, Lanus, Ware-Jackson, Collins, and Howard slammed their colleague, District 8 board member Connie Bernard, who publicly made comments suggesting members of the public who supported the name change needed to perform further research of Lee’s legacy.
An explosive moment came when former state senate candidate Gary Chambers accused Bernard of online shopping while other board members and community members shared their concerns about racism.
Chambers claimed he had a photo to support that claim which he shared on his social media page.
Bernard briefly exited the meeting before returning a short time later. She did not immediately return requests for comment.
Several influential organizations weighed in prior to the vote.
“Renaming [Lee High School] is the right thing to do,” said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC).
The NAACP also announced its support to rename Lee High. Click here to read a letter the organization sent to the school system.
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