Education

How Robert E. Lee Elementary Received Its Name

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The Black Wall Street Times received an email from anonymous citizen with interesting information regarding the naming of Lee School. We decided to publish the information because we believe it’s worthy of a look. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section of our Facebook page. 


From a Citizen of Tulsa 

The Tulsa community continues to ponder, lament, shrug at, embrace, or celebrate the renaming of Robert E. Lee Elementary, Lee School.

Seems like there are folks who don’t want the name to change, folks who do, and folks who frankly have some other social, political, or historical ax to grind.

One fact that has been overlooked, is this: Robert E. Lee Elementary, as a newly built school, was dedicated in honor of the Confederate General as part of a four-day-long Reunion of Confederate Veterans that happened in Tulsa in September 1918.

A program of celebrations, parades, speeches, meetings, etc., this reunion, years in the making and, at the time, a real economic boon for the then-young city of Tulsa, brought about 30,000 or 40,000 confederate vets and their relatives to town. It was a multi-venue series of gatherings during which the city’s population, for a few days, doubled.

The organizers for the 28th Annual Reunion of the United Confederate Veterans, as it was officially called, included Tate Brady (the well-known Tulsa businessman and Ku Klux Klan member), Nathan Bedford Forrest II (whose father, a Confederate General and slave trader, was the first leader of the KKK, and who himself became Grand Dragon of the KKK for Georgia), and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. All of this information is covered in much detail in the local newspapers of the time: September 24-27, 1918.

Which brings us to this: the school was named after Robert E. Lee as part of the various Confederate Veterans Reunion festivities, per page 10 of the September 27, 1918 edition of the Tulsa Daily World. (That newspaper page is posted here, via the Library of Congress: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042344/1918-09-27/ed-1/seq-10/#date1=1918&index=0&rows=20.)

Now, with that moment from Tulsa’s history in mind, jump forward 99 years, to August 2017 in Virginia, when white supremacists marched in the streets as part of a deadly “Unite the Right” rally that was organized to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.

Thus can a symbol of Confederate “heroism,” over the course of a century, transform into a symbol of Neo-Nazi hatred.

And this transformation, it seems, is essentially why TPS is now moving toward replacing Lee with Council Oak. It’s not really about whether General Lee actually owned slaves, or whether he was ultimately a traitor or a great man — those are age-old debates, after all. It’s more about how Lee as a symbol has been converted into an icon of racism, hatred, white nationalism, bigotry, and other terrible ideas that should have no place in a public school (in Tulsa or anywhere else). 

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