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From the film, 12 Years a Slave, based on Solomon Northrop’s own account of his life as an enslaved person.
OPINION BY | Nehemiah D. Frank
Let us be frank: Renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School as “Lee School” is a lash on the back of every African-American student attending a Tulsa public school, which is alarming considering 25 percent of TPS’ total student population is composed of African-American pupils.
TPS may as well remount the “No Colored” signs and command all the Negro students, Negro teachers, and Negro staff to ignore the symbol that acknowledges, values, and promotes white superiority in a 21st-century integrated educational setting.
Every TPS school board member knows the history of General Robert E. Lee. He was not only a traitor to the values and principles of the U.S. Constitution, but he publicly rejected the notion that “all men are created equal.”
Notwithstanding, some TPS school board members publicly voted to move forward with renaming the school “Lee School.”
These school board members know that General Robert E. Lee was a shameless, wicked individual who partook in the immoral act of human trafficking and chattel slavery.
The horrors of institutional chattel slavery—in America—were so horrific that African-Americans are still dealing with the physical, mental, social, and economic effects of it today.
First, imagine walking by a complete stranger that resembles kin, perhaps a cousin or aunt or uncle, etc., but you will never know if you are in fact related. You choose not to pay the individual any attention because those occurrences happen frequently.
You can only conclude you and the other person share family ties because you’ve watched Roots and reminisced somewhere in history your family split apart due to capitalism and “states’ rights.”
Next is the mental weight we African-Americans continue to carry. History haunts you and subconsciously reminds you from the time you can write your full name that your surname originates from a European gentry, noble, or wealthy family that owned your grandparents or great grandparents.
Lastly, imagine living in a place where endless horrific labor was forced upon you and those you love. A place where an overseer or wicked slave master who does not give a damn if you are tired, sick, or injured forces you to continue working unpaid. It’s free labor or death.
Imagine families that are habitually broken up and sold for profit. Or a black man and black woman forced to have sex with one another so the master can sell the offspring—not knowing that he or she may be forced to have intercourse with their own sibling, or perhaps their first cousin.
“We were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams tolay it on well,an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”
An eye-witness account of the horrors of institutional slavery by Wesley Norris.
“… After a sale it was not uncommon to see negroes taken from their wives, wives taken from their husbands, and children from their parents, and sent off to other islands, and wherever else their merciless lords chose; and probably nevermore during life to see each other! Oftentimes my heart has bled at these partings; when the friends of the departed have been at the water side, and, with sighs and tears, have kept their eyes fixed on the vessel till it went out of sight.
There was a very clever and decent free young mulatto-man who sailed a long time with us: he had a free woman for his wife, by whom he had a child; and she was then living on shore, and all very happy. Our captain and mate, and other people on board, and several elsewhere, even the natives of Bermudas, all knew this young man from a child that he was always free, and no one had ever claimed him as their property: however, as might too often overcomes right in these parts, it happened that a Bermudas captain, whose vessel lay there for a few days in the road, came on board of us, and seeing the mulatto man, whose name was Joseph Clipson, he told him he was not free, and that he had orders from his master to bring him to [the Bermudas]. The poor man could not believe the captain to be in earnest; but he was very soon undeceived, his men laying violent hands on him: and although he shewed a certificate of his being born free in St. Kitt’s, and most people on board knew that he served his time to boat-building, and always passed for a free man, yet he was taken forcibly out of our vessel. He then asked to be carried ashore before the secretary or magistrates, and these infernal invaders of human rights promised him he should; but, instead of that, they carried him on board of the other vessel: and the next day, without giving the poor man any hearing on shore, or suffering him even to see his wife or child, he was carried away, and probably doomed never more in this world to see them again.”
An eye-witness account of the horrors of institutional slavery by Olaudah Equiano.
That is the institution that Robert E. Lee fought to maintain and was willing to abandon the union of the United States of America to protect.
Yet some TPS school board members agreed to keep the name “Lee” mounted on the side of the building, still honoring a man who chose to protect such a horrible and immoral institution, one that still adversely affects the lives of 25 percent of TPS students. Some TPS board members would still embrace that despicable history.
Do Black TPS students matter or will the wheels of this small vote for justice remain stagnate and honor a man who allowed Black boys to be lynched?
If the name “Lee” remains on the school by 2021, as the author of these words, I can assure you that the city of Tulsa will be wholly embarrassed.
This opinion piece was in direct response to the Tulsa Public School board meeting who motioned to move forward and vote to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School “‘Lee’ School,” which took place on March 15, 2018.
- RECOMMENDATION: Rename the current Robert E. Lee Elementary School “Lee School” effective July 1, 2018. Further recommend that artifacts or any other references that specifically honor Robert E. Lee be removed.
- RATIONALE: In accordance with Policy 8102, an ad hoc committee met on March 12, 2018, to consider renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School and voted in favor of renaming the school “Lee School.” The ad hoc committee explored principles of equity, diversity and inclusion as a result of the proposed school name recension and resulting name change recommendation. [Note* Said ad hoc committee hardly had diversity on its committee on the exception of one mixed race member.] The ad hoc committee recognizes that this is a challenging, sometimes divisive, uncomfortable but nonetheless vital component of continuing to foster a community aligned with the school’s guiding principles and Tulsa Public School’s values and its Destination Excellence strategic plan.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder & Executive Editor of the Black Wall St. Times. Frank graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL in General Studies, and earned a Political Science degree from Oklahoma State University. He is highly involved in community activism, a middle school teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts, a blogger for Education Post, and dedicates most of his time to empowering and uplifting his community of North Tulsa, home to America’s Black Wall Street. Frank is a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and the Community Impact Award for the MET Cares Foundation and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Frank recently gave a TEDx Talk at the University of Tulsa.