Why San Angelo ISD Killed Robert E. Lee

SAN ANGELO, TX — San Angelo ISD Trustee Max Parker delivered an almost 40-minute impassioned speech about the legacy of General Robert E. Lee Monday night, Oct. 19, that appeared to be the lynchpin of why all but one member of the San Angelo ISD Board of Trustees voted to rename Lee Middle School.

The name of the school has been the subject of a four-month-long debate and tonight culminated in the board voting 6-1 to rename the school, and if Parker gets his way, “to something other than a person.”

Parker recalled his childhood, growing up in Comanche in the 1960s, when all of his classmates were white. Robert E. Lee was a hero of his, he admitted. When he played army with his pals, he always took the side of the Confederates. Parker recounted the dignity and character of the man and stated all of that is still true today.

However, in recent years, the symbol of Robert E. Lee has become disconnected from the historical figure. Lee’s image has been used to subjugate blacks to the point that you can no longer name anything after Lee without evoking negative connotations about race and inequality.

Although Parker said he was making the motion to rename Lee Middle School, this is the end of the renaming of district buildings. He said he will have no part in renaming Reagan Elementary School. There will be no dominoes, he promised.

Parker, who is a local attorney, carefully reconstructed each argument for and against Lee and noted how he considered those arguments, pro and con. He researched the history of the 1949 and 1955 school boards and delivered his opinions of their intentions, and recalled a few who were mentors of his. He noted that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just began the second wave of the civil rights era by desegregating the U.S. Military in 1948, a year prior to the naming of Lee Middle School. For Parker, he had a strong suspicion that the school’s name was at least in part a result of that controversial decision. In the segregated San Angelo ISD of 1949, Parker added, Lee Middle School was the school designated for white students, not blacks.

Even after desegregation, by 1968, Parker said the school was overwhelmingly white. However, today, 42 years later, the demographics of the school have shifted and only about 30 percent of the current student body is white. The majority of the students are Hispanic, he said. And the black population of the school is greater than it was 40 years ago.

Parker’s argument ended with a passionate defense of John H. Reagan. Unlike Lee’s name, Reagan’s name has not become a symbol of the Confederacy or white supremacy. Reagan was the postmaster general of the Confederate States of America. However, Parker said he personally will entertain no effort to remove Reagan’s name from a district school building.

Parker’s compromise of sorts was to separate Lee the historical figure from Lee the symbolic figure. Just as the Stars and Bars Battle Flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, also called the Confederate Flag, recently became a symbol of oppression, so too had Lee’s image, Parker argued. Parker said there is no way of reconciling the man from the symbol.

In a similar situation, the Confederate Flag was removed from the state capitol in South Carolina in the wake of the 2015 shooting in Charleston where a white supremacist named Dylann Roof killed 9 black parishioners at their church. Then-Governor Nikki Haley said that after it was learned that Roof had emblazoned an image of the Confederate Flag on the cover of his racist manifesto, the symbolism of the flag changed forever. No longer was it just a symbol of southern pride. That is why she, as a Republican governor, signed the law to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol.

Few doubt the anti-Lee side will stop their quest to remove all remnants of the Confederacy from San Angelo, or will heed to Parker’s admonishment that the dominoes end with renaming Lee Middle School. The anti-Lee side has declared their intentions to go after the name of the primary east-west thoroughfare, Beauregard Ave., Reagan Elementary, and the name of the county itself, named after Confederate General Tom Green.

Watch Max Parker's speech above. 

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