Two districts remove name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from elementary schools

May 16, 2018
School boards in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Columbia, Mo., remove names linked to the Confederacy and slavery.

The trend toward removing Confederacy-linked names from U.S. public schools is continuing as districts in Missouri and Oklahoma have given new names to schools that had been named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

On Monday night, the Columbia (Mo.) school board voted to change Robert E. Lee Elementary School to the Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School, The Columbia Missourian reports.

Also on Monday night, the Oklahoma City School Board voted to change the name of three elementary schools that had been named for Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee, reports. 

The Oklahoma City school will remain known as Lee Elementary, but its full name has been changed to Adelaide Lee Elementary School to honor an Oklahoma philanthropist who, the district says, empowered women and children through access to education and day care services.

The Oklahoma City board also voted to change Stonewall Jackson Enterprise Elementary School to Mary Golda Ross Enterprise Elementary to honor a Tahlequah, Okla., native who was the first Native American female engineer. Stand Watie  Elementary will be renamed Esperanza Elementary. Esperanza is the Spanish word for hope.

In Columbia, five parents and residents spoke in support of the name change.

Joseph Chevalier noted that Confederate documents state that the reason for secession was to preserve slavery.

“That is why Lee fought, that is why his name is over those doors now, and that is why we must remove it,” Chevalier said.

Renaming committee member Alex Barker said that the school’s name should not only represent the school’s location and mission, but also should make students feel welcome and included.

Barker said the name “Lee” failed to do any of this.

Three audience members spoke against the name change, citing tradition.

Columbia's Lee Elementary was founded in 1904. The school’s official name has remained Robert E. Lee Elementary School since it was founded, but since 1990, the district has referred to the school as Lee Expressive Arts Elementary.

In Oklahoma City,  there was no public opposition to the proposed name changes during the meeting, but board member Charles Henry criticized the selection process.

Henry, who is black, questioned why the names of prominent blacks Clara Luper and Ralph Ellison, who scored high in a public survey didn't receive more consideration.

Committees made up of community members, school staff and parents recommended two names each for Lee, Jackson Enterprise and Stand Watie elementary schools. Students researched and voted on the new names. 

The name change process in Oklahoma City began in October, when the school board voted unanimously to rename the three schools after then-Superintendent Aurora Lora said the generals did not "reflect our values in 2017."

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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