OPINION By | Nate Morris
I’m from Virginia. Growing up, we would regularly visit our family and friends in Charlottesville. It was a place that always felt safe, comfortable, and beautiful.
I remember when that changed last August. I remember watching as a city I loved fell victim to a terrorist attack perpetrated by white supremacists in response to the removal of a Robert E Lee statue in Lee Park.
In that moment, we saw racism in its most vicious form. But what we often miss is that racism is far more insidious than the images that flashed across our screens this summer.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at the start of the school year, there were nearly 200 schools across the country named after Confederate and Klan leaders.
The SPLC’s report chronicles the timeline of the namings and finds that there are two distinct time periods wherein these schools were named. The first was during the rise of Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws throughout the South and at the time of the Tulsa Race Massacre in Greenwood. The second was immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision of Brown v. the Board of Education.
These schools were purposefully named after oppressors, specifically to continue the oppression of people of color.
Racism in America is like a cancer. It is interwoven into the fabric of this nation. And like any cancer, it cannot be eradicated by only removing a small piece of it. It must be cut out in its entirety.
Our city failed to do this when it simply renamed the Brady District after a different Brady. I believe that we, as a district, will fail to do this again if we keep the surname of a school named after Robert E. Lee, a man who wrote, and I’m quoting his words:
“The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa. Morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by wise and merciful providence.”
These are not the words of a man of honor or integrity, and I believe we would all agree these are not the words of a man who deserves to have any remnant of his name remaining on one of our schools. Our kids deserve better than the experience of walking into a building named after an oppressor.
It’s an experience that many of us are privileged to never have known because of the color of our skin. It’s experience that doesn’t last a few short months, but lasts a lifetime.
I am grateful that we are having this conversation.
I am grateful that we are finally beginning to be honest about the brutal and terrible history of our city and our country.
I am grateful for the way the community and faculty at Lee is deeply wrestling with this painful reality.
But we must remember that a school is not its name. As we have heard tonight, it is the people, the community, the joy that live within its walls.
In this moment, if we wish to say that we are a district fighting for equity for all of our kids, we must truly ask ourselves if we can live out that vision while our students still walk into school in the shadow of white supremacy.
For our kids, we must be better.