General Robert E. Lee

Removing Lee’s Name Sparks
Controversy, Sarcasm

| published May 15, 2016 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

Parks, statues, buildings, monuments and even schools which memorialize leaders of the Confederacy are facing hard times of late. Unpopular with American citizens for the connotations to a dark and troubling period of American history, flags are being taken down, monuments toppled—or moved to less conspicuous locations—and entire schools renamed.

In South Carolina, the horrific act of a mass shooter prompted state officials, including the Palmetto State’s Governor Nikki Haley, to once and for all remove the Confederate flag from all public offices and buildings—most notably the state Capitol. In New Orleans, Louisiana, the City Council voted unanimously to remove all vestiges of four different Confederate monuments located on city properties and in parks. In more than a dozen states, such changes have now become commonplace in cities, towns and state capitals.

In Austin, Texas, the school board is bowing to local pressure to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to…well, something else…anything without the connotations associated with the Civil War or of a racist Deep South. On March 28, school district members voted to remove General Lee’s name from the school.

But at a loss as to how and what to do to implement the name change, the Austin Independent School District established a public poll to pick a suitable replacement for Lee and his horse, Traveler. In short, they asked the public for suggestions, and implied that the most popular name would be the one chosen.

But school district members got more than they had bargained for. Among the proposed names: Donald J. Trump Elementary School, with 45 votes, the winner, as a matter of fact. The fact that Trump’s name won out over scores of possible namesakes infuriated school board members who were assuming an orderly process would ensue. In a distant second place, and even more shocking, was this suggestion with eight votes: The Adolf Hitler School for Friendship and Tolerance.

The results of the school district’s poll has prompted a media storm, and has elicited the understatement by some city officials that some degree of sarcasm and facetiousness may be at work in the outcome, which—it seems obvious to us—reflects an attempt to poke fun at the status quo with sharp, biting satire. Others have suggested that the hideous nominations reflect infiltration by trolls bent on racism.

The board was quick to point out that its straw poll was merely that—an invitation for members of the public to weigh-in on the renaming of the school. Members of the board will make the final decision, and it may not have anything to do with the popular will of those who voted (Trump can then make the case that the system is rigged against him, even at the elementary school level).

At least one person suggested renaming the school “Bleeding Heart Liberal Elementary School.” It is not clear how the local politicians will handle the outcome of the straw poll to rename the school. There are currently more than 300 schools in the U.S. which bear the name Robert E. Lee, and many are now under pressure to change remove the name of the officer who commanded the armies of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Chalk Messages and Free Speech on Campus; Thursday Review editors; Thursday Review; April 10, 2016.

A Funny Thing Happened on Our Way to the Mainstream Media; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 3, 2016.