These Schools Really Want You to Forget They Were Named After Horrible Slaveowners

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee being removed in Lee Circle in New Orleans.
Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP

Turns out being not racist is a lot more expensive than people expected!

Schools originally named or renamed after Confederate General Robert E. Lee and other historical racists are reportedly repurposing their names as a cost-saving alternative to changing the school name altogether, with some schools turning the name Lee into an acronym or designating the name to another famous or historical Lee.

According to the Wall Street Journal, schools are attempting to save millions in sign replacement, new uniforms, sports fields and equipment changes, and other associated costs in their already tight budges by just changing the intent and meaning of the school’s name, rather than taking the step to go through the entire rebranding process with another name.

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One of the schools mentioned, Robert E. Lee High School of the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, TX, changed its name to Legacy of Educational Excellence High School. Another school in Austin, TX—after a very dumb nomination process that included suggestions seeming to shit on liberal parents such as Donald J. Trump Elementary and Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance—renamed itself after a Depression-era photographer, Russell Lee.

It’s not just “Lee” schools getting the namesake treatment, either. In Houston, a school named after Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier had its name changed to honor former Houston mayor Bob Lanier.

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According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1,700 monuments, place names, and other symbols honor the Confederacy. About 100 of those namesakes belong to public schools, honoring Lee himself. Shockingly, despite the well-intended nature of these name changes, some school districts just don’t know where they’re going wrong, or can’t even do the least to try and acknowledge its racist history.

From the Journal, emphasis mine:

In the past year, the debate over its name was contentious at Washington-Lee High School, nicknamed W-L High School, in Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, Lee’s birth state.

The school district renaming committee wanted to keep W-L for cost reasons, including not having to replace a seal in a main hallway, a district spokesman said.

It considered having the L stand for Henry Lee III, Robert E. Lee’s father. But some questioned whether that would count as a name change. Others suggested Loving, the surname of an interracial Virginia couple who were behind the 1960s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down laws banning interracial marriage.

The school board settled on Liberty, and the school will be called Washington-Liberty High School this fall, a change the district said will cost about $224,000.

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Knowing how much some districts spend on costs completely related to basic education, versus how little they’re willing to spend on replacing their students’ sports jerseys, is enough to make your head spin. As New York Times writer Binyamin Appelbaum pointed out on Twitter, North East Independent School District, which lazily chose to rename its school L.E.E. to save $1.3 million, had spent $27.5 million on a football stadium that opened in 2009.

Still, it’s understandable why some of these school districts, surely not as wealthy as North East and squeezing the most out of what little they get from their states, are going the low-effort route, thinking that this is enough. As the Journal notes, however, many of these institutions were named in the 1950s and 1960s, amid the civil rights movement and reassurances from ancestors of the Confederacy that the south would “rise again.” Half-assing the renaming of these schools isn’t a great way to show students and families who protested the name that you actually empathize with their frustrations.

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Anyhow, might I suggest a great place to continue this work be my alma mater: the University of Texas at Austin, the school song of which boasts that the “Eyes of Texas are upon you.” This is a refrain explicitly lifted from Lee’s reminder to students of Washington and Lee University that “Eyes of the South are upon you.

And yes, before you ask, it was the same Lee who led the racist war.

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About the author

Samantha Grasso

Splinter Staff Writer, Texan