Meet the school board members who voted to ignore black voices and African-American historic narratives by renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School after the Confederate general’s surname. (center top President Suzanne Schreiber; center bottom – Ms. Ruth Ann Fate; left Vice President Cindy Decker, and right Gary Percefull)
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder & editor-in-chief
TULSA, Okla. — A step forward one day and a thousand steps backward the next. Last week, a Tulsa Public School District celebrated its first African-American Teacher of the Year, Shaniqua Ray. However things quickly changed on Monday; a Lee sympathizer was heard saying “Thank You, Jesus!” upon the Tulsa Public School Board’s decision to maintain the honoring of a Confederate Soldier. General Robert E. Lee’s surname will remain on a TPS school.
Despite the outcry for a renaming of the school from people of color and white constituents — along with three school board members and TPS’ superintendent, four white school board members voted to protect the school’s heritage and tradition in white supremacy in a 4 to 3 vote.
They voted in the tradition of naming schools after questionable personages, southerners who thought their institutions for learning should honor Confederate generals and not American heroes.
The swing vote — which would have made a historic moment for a once-segregated school district — was determined by the Tulsa Public School Board President, Ms. Suzanne Schreiber of District 7. Schreiber voted to allow the Confederate general’s surname, Lee, to remain the school’s name. The board member explained that her decision was based on what the Lee community wanted, which doesn’t align with TPS’s equity value.
In 2016 TPS launched Destination Excellence, a strategic plan with five core values: Equity, Character, Excellence, Team, and Joy. The school board members — who supported keeping the name, Lee — unfortunately, compromise Destination Excellence’s mission. As a result of purposefully ignoring minority voices out of convenience and tradition, their inequitable votes further suppress African-American’s racially internalized trauma. As the racialize truama seeks to surface and alleviate, TPS school board members’ inequitable choices emotionally place black empathy on the back of the bus.
TPS has broken its promise to black Tulsans again.
But who is ultimately responsible for this grave racial injustice?
President Suzanne Schreiber, as a young white woman, was in a position of privilege to resolve the wrong, bestowed upon the ancestors of present-day TPS black students, black teachers, and black principals. Her job merely consisted of renaming the school, which would align with “foster[ing] an inclusive environment by examining biases and resolving unfair practices — [equity].”
Instead, she chose to appease the majority wealthy white Lee community that purportedly wants to save the schools tradition, a history that once turned its head to the idea of allowing black students to attend. TPS’s school board president, Suzzane Schreiber chose to commit to political, social tribalism out of convenience from possible whitelash from the broader Tulsa community.
TPS’s inequity gap stems from institutionalized racism. Tate Brady was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, an accomplice of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, and a Tulsa Public School Board member at the turn of the last century. Brady was around during the time Robert E. Lee Elementary School received its name.
Naming the school after a Confederate general inevitably stamps Tulsa as a white supremacy city, which thoroughly wanted the Confederate army to win the war. In addition to that, naming the school after General Lee meant that white Tulsans shared Lee’s non-inclusive values and therefore desired that black people remained in their places of inferiority. They wanted blacks to stay north of the Frisco railroad tracks. Brady nor Lee desired to see blacks attending schools with whites.
Tate Brady would have voted the same way President Suzanne Schreiber did on Monday — perhaps for different reasons, perhaps not.
Their values did not boast equity.
Their values were not inclusive.
Many Black Tulsans find Lee’s name offensive, but Suzanne Schreiber doesn’t care about how black Tulsans feel, and her vote proves that.
For more information on Confederate ties to Tulsa click here.
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.