At Midland’s Robert E. Lee High School — where 31 percent of the student body is white — the football team is nicknamed the Rebels and fans sometimes fly Confederate flags to show their support. But a civil rights group has called for change.
Across the state at Houston’s Lee High School, which is 4 percent white, district leaders dropped the “Robert E.” from the school’s title years ago to distance the school from the Confederate general.
Those schools are two of many across the state grappling with old Confederate names. Many of those school names are decades old. But many of those schools’ populations represent the new Texas – with nonwhites making up more than half of their students.
The Texas Tribune identified 28 public schools in Texas named after Confederate leaders Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sidney Johnston. (Scroll down to see the complete list of schools.) Of those, five have a majority of white students. Across the nation, there has been greater scrutiny of Confederate symbols and tributes after last month’s fatal shooting of nine people inside a black church in South Carolina. Stores have stopped selling Confederate flags, statues on college campuses have been vandalized and names have been reconsidered.
Some changes have already been made at the Texas schools. In Midland, the Confederate flag was eliminated as a school symbol in 1991. But Marisa Kent, a 2012 graduate, said many fans and supporters still use it, with some white students hanging it in their truck windows.
Days after the Charleston shooting, the civil rights group Una Voz Unida called on the Midland school district to change Lee High School’s name. District offices are closed this week, and administrators couldn’t be reached for comment on whether that’s a possibility. But Kent said she thinks a change is unlikely. Many students and alumni value the tradition of the name, she said.
“People say he was a general in the war and his bravery needs to be recognized,” she said, adding that she’d like to at least see a discussion.
Cries for change are more popular in urban areas. Lee Elementary in Austin was founded in 1939. Now, the man the school is named for is rarely mentioned in classrooms, though a portrait of the general remains in a hallway.
“You rarely see or hear the full name, except on the big sign on the top of the building,” said Dave Junker, a white parent whose black adopted children attend the school. “There has clearly been ambivalence about it over the last few years.”
The school is 63 percent white. It’s diverse, but less so than the rest of Austin ISD, said Junker. He’s part of a committee of parents, teachers and administrators that plans to meet next month to consider dropping the name.
That kind of discussion will also happen at Houston ISD, which has four schools named after Confederate leaders, including Lee High School. School board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has said she plans to propose renaming the schools soon, but nothing has been made official.
“We are looking into this issue and are certainly open to having conversations about it,” said district spokeswoman Holly Huffman.
See the Demographics of Texas Schools Named After Confederate Leaders
Using data from the Texas Education Agency’s 2013-14 Texas Academic Performance Report, The Texas Tribune collected demographic data of public schools named after Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Albert Sidney Johnston and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The origins of the schools’ names were verified via the schools’ websites or by a school representative. Schools that could not be verified were not included on this list. “Nonwhite” refers to students reported as African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander or Two or More Races in the TEA report.
Eagle Pass ISD
Port Arthur ISD
El Paso ISD
Grand Prairie ISD
North East ISD
Goose Creek CISD
San Angelo ISD
Robert Lee ISD
Robert Lee ISD
- Source: TEA 2013-2014 Texas Academic Performance Report data, Comptroller Financial Allocation Study for Texas 2012-2013
- Credit: Mallory Busch
- Article from TexasTribune.org