Black Schools Shouldn’t Be Named After Confederate Leaders

Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee

By Andrew Pillow

Recently there have been two separate school name controversies but both center around the same debate: Should schools be named after Confederate officers and politicians?

One situation involves a school in Mississippi named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The other concerns a Texas High School named after Robert E. Lee, the most successful and well-known Confederate general. In both of these situations, the school districts decided that the names should change. The decisions to change the names were not without controversy, but they were the correct choices to make. Particularly in the case of the Mississippi school because it is a mostly black school. 

America’s history is not perfect. That is a known fact. But we have come a long way from the days of slavery and jim-crow.  With that being said, the remnants and stains of America’s racist past (and to a degree present) still remain and probably always will. The founding fathers that adorn our currency had slaves. Even our national anthem and state songs remember slavery fondly. I can deal with these daily reminders of our past, however problematic they may be. But the least we can do is afford our black students the dignity of not having to attend schools named after people who wouldn’t want them to go to school.

Why would you have a majority black school named after someone who didn’t even believe black people should be free?

“Well, this school was named a long time ago. Way before the school became majority black.”

Then change the name. As demographics and dynamics of a neighborhood change, it is only natural that opinions and sensitivities will along with it.

“Well, the Civil-War wasn’t actually fought over slavery.”

This is patently false. Historians are pretty much in agreement that the civil war was about slavery. It also didn’t require a plethora research to come to that conclusion. Most of the southern states cited slavery as the reason for withdrawal from the union in their own declarations of secession. Even the conservative-leaning Prager University admits the civil war was mostly about slavery.

Given that the primary cause of the confederates was to secure the right of the southern states to keep blacks as slaves, it seems borderline paradoxical to use their names for schools that have blacks as students.

One of my favorite TV shows is Firefly. Ironically, it’s a space western based loosely on the reconstruction period following the civil war. The protagonist of this show, Mal, has a quote that is eerily relevant to this debate.

“It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of 'em was one kinda sombitch or another.”

This is a quote that rings true. It is probably too much to ask that every single historical figure we choose to memorialize be a perfect person in every way. I’m not arguing that every person we honor be free of sin. I’m arguing that we don’t honor them in a way that was antithetical to the life they lived.  

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.