Changing the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to, well, just about anything else. Right now, some might even go for Dean Spanos Elementary School. Or Bob Filner Elementary School.
Who's behind it?
Many. But the primary local leader is San Diego Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, who was inspired to lobby for the change after the Charleston, S.C., church shooting. The white gunman was shown in pictures posted online with the Confederate flag. Subsequently, there have been calls throughout the nation to remove these Confederate names from public institutions.
Wait a sec. How in the world did a San Diego school get named after Lee?
Great question. We don't know. The school, in Paradise Hills, opened in 1959. The choice seems odd. California had Southern sympathizers, but it was a Union state. And the war was long over when the school was built, so it's not as if succession talk was still going on. Rock 'n' roll was hot!!!! According to the San Diego Unified School District, records show the reasons for the name was because Lee was an “American soldier and educator.” The school today is mostly a minority one, so people like Gonzalez don't think a Southern general should be the school's namesake.
What other California schools bear the name of Confederate leaders?
Just one other. An elementary school in Long Beach. It's also named after Lee. We're thinking the same thing. Long Beach??? And, yep, there are calls to change that name too.
What is up with Lee and his popularity? There is a statue of him in the U.S. Capital, even. What gives with that?
That rankles some people too. Yes, he was a great general, but critics say he broke his oath as an U.S. Army officer when he joined the rebels. (The oath is about protecting the Constitution from enemies, both foreign and domestic. Seems pretty clear.) President Abraham Lincoln wanted him to lead the Union army, but Lee said he couldn't fire upon his home state of Virginia. Some consider him a traitor. Indeed, some argue if Lee didn't take part in the war, it may have ended sooner. As commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, he led his troops to significant victories — and caused thousands upon thousands of Union deaths. This story highlights the controversy.
So why is Lee so celebrated?
When the war was over, many in the North pretty much wanted the war to be over. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was the only leader arrested for treason, but he never even went to trial. Lee was considered to be an honorable, decent man — even by his enemies. So Lee wasn't shackled or tried and went about his life quietly. After the war, there was a strong effort in the South to create a new narrative about the South's reason for fighting. It wasn't based on the South's true cause — ensuring that slavery continued — but on state's rights to self-govern. In the South, Lee is considered a hero of that effort, commonly known as the Lost Cause. There was never much rebuttal regarding Lee's role. Here's a story about a number of myths about the Civil War.
Wow. We're still fighting the Civil War?
It appears some are.
So what will happen with the name? Is Lee history?
The school district has started a dialogue with the community to see what it would like to do. One forum has been held and another one is planned. If there's enough support, the name could be changed. The San Diego Black Police Officers' Association has offered one alternative. It would like to see the school named in honor of Archie Buggs, who was killed in the line of duty in 1978. He grew up in the area where the school is located. Here's that story.