I did a cursory search and did not find this topic addressed. If I missed it, please forgive me.
Anyhoo, the school board of the Austin (Texas) Independent School District has voted to rename the campus of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. They have not yet chosen a new name. Many people in social media call this “changing (or erasing) history.” They claim that it would be impossible to find anyone who is utterly faultless to honor with the naming of schools, parks, etc. Those in favor of the name change argue that Lee himself is a poor figure to honor with the naming of a school and that his name on the building creates a hostile environment for African-American students, and perhaps other ethnic minorities.
So, should Lee’s name be removed from elementary schools? Should it be removed from other public properties, such as high schools, parks, freeways, etc.? Is such renaming of these things constitute revisionist history?
In my opinion, Robert E. Lee is a terrible person to honor with the name of a school or other public space. Lee was a traitor. He took up arms against the very army that trained and commissioned him. He championed the states’ right to allow slavery, which, even for the 1860s, was unconscionable. The issue of slavery was settled in Western thought at the time, with the United States being among the last to ban its practice. Lee knowingly aligned himself with a “peculiar institution” that was clearly going to be extinct. His name should absolutely be removed from public schools, parks, highways, etc.
However, Texas is also home to Lee County. Renaming a county is somewhat more problematic. Perhaps a compromise would be to find some other worthy person named Lee and claim that, from here forward, Lee County will forever be known to honor Penelope Lee, a woman of obvious beauty and contribution to society.
But what of Jeff Davis County? This county is not merely “Davis County”, but Jeff Davis County. It would be harder to find a worthy person with that specific of a name.
Back in Austin, folks have suggested renaming Sidney Lanier High School (of which I am a graduate). Lanier was a poet and musician. During the Civil War, he served in the Confederate Army, but he did not have any notable accomplishments. His notability comes from his poetry and music. However, some of his poetry is quite offensive to modern sensibilities. To me, his case is somewhat different. He was not a leader of the Rebel cause. He, like many people, simply got caught up in the tide. His morality was typical of many Southerners at the time (and even today, sadly). Renaming Lanier High School would be more trouble than it’s worth. He is not in the same league as Lee or Davis.
Austin is also the county seat of Travis County. Travis was named for Col. William Barrett Travis, hero of the Alamo. Travis could also be characterized as a traitor, leading a rebellion against Mexico. However, Travis has one important attribute that Lee and Davis do not: his cause WON (though Travis himself died in the effort). Shouldn’t that matter?