National

Posted: August 16, 2017

At least 109 schools named after Confederate figures, study says

Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Austin, Texas, pictured in 2015.
Shelby Tauber, Austin American-Statesman
Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Austin, Texas, pictured in 2015.

By Kelcie Willis, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

study from the Southern Poverty Law Center says that at least 109 public schools in the United States are named after prominent figures in the Confederacy and many have large African-American student bodies.

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As part of the 2016 study on the symbols of the Confederacy, the  advocacy organization found that 52 schools were named after Gen. Robert E. Lee, which is nearly half of the schools where data was pulled from. Most of these schools are in Southern states, but a few are in the Midwest and western regions of the country.

One of the oldest schools in Jacksonville, Florida, is Robert E. Lee High School. In Tampa, Florida, three hours away, is Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

Other schools are named after Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, Nathan Bedford Forrest and J.E.B. Stuart. Fifteen are named after Jackson, 13 after Davis, seven each after Beauregard and Forrest and five named after Stuart.

In California and Washington state, three schools are named after Lee: Robert E. Lee Elementary in East Wenatchee, Washington; Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Long Beach, California, and an elementary school of the same name in San Diego, California.

In 2016, the San Diego elementary school was renamed Pacific View Leadership Elementary School, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. That same year, The Grunion reported that Lee Elementary in Long Beach, one of the oldest elementary schools in the city, would be renamed Olivia Herrera Elementary School. Herrera was an activist who worked with Cesar Chavez, according to Long Beach Post.

Despite name changes of numerous schools named after Lee across the country, Lee Elementary in East Wenatchee has not moved toward renaming the school. In 2015, in the wake of the Charleston massacre, Eastmont Superintendent Garn Christensen said most Wenatchee citizens wanted to keep the name.

According to the SPLC, 27 of the 109 schools have majority African-American student populations. Ten have an African-American population of over 90 percent. 

In one case, The Washington Post reported in 2013 that Duval County Public Schools in Florida would change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida, following a 161,000 signature petition. Named after the Confederate general and the first “grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, the school was reported as having an African-American student body of more than 50 percent.

Notably, in 2016, Houston Independent School District voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School Margaret Long Wisdom High School, after a lifelong Houston resident and educator. The school has a large Latino population, according to The Associated Press

Despite the renaming of some schools, others have kept monikers bearing the names of Confederate figures, like Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas, J.E.B. Stuart Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, and Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s not clear for each school if the decision to keep some of the names is because of cultural or historical ties or budgetary reasons.

Relying on federal, state and private resources, SPLC said that the data was verified by at least one other source, with preference given to governmental sources over private ones. 

According to the SPLC, “at least 39 of these schools were built or dedicated from 1950 to 1970, broadly encompassing the era of the modern civil rights movement.”

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