The East Baton Rouge School System is one that serves over 81% African-American students. From the time of the inception of this nation, African-American children and their families were barred from the American education system. Now, 13 years after the closing of the longest desegregation order in the United States, and four years after the removal of “Robert E.” from Lee High’s name, Baton Rouge children are still subjected to the bigotry that called for segregation to exist in the first place.
School Board Member Connie Bernard recently repeated some false, revisionist history during an interview concerning a name change for Lee High. As a representative of a board dedicated to educating over 45,000 children, she is complicit in the oppression of black children in this parish and the spreading of historically inaccurate information to those who look to understand American History.
According to Sean Kane, writer for the American Civil War Museum, Robert E. Lee inherited and owned 189 enslaved people, whom he worked tirelessly to fulfill a debt, instead of fulfilling his father-in-law’s wish to have those enslaved people freed in five years as the will suggested; he instead petitioned the court to keep them further in bondage. He also petitioned the court to extend their period of enslavement, and according to the narratives of those enslaved, inflicted cruel punishments to those who attempted to escape their life of bondage.
The members of our organizations are concerned by School Board Member Bernard’s words and actions. Her interview demonstrates that she values Robert E. Lee and the systemic racism that he represents far more than the students and families that she has committed to serve as a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Mrs. Bernard’s vote to merely remove Lee’s first name from the school name was a betrayal four years ago and her recent comments show that she has no desire to acknowledge the traumas that Black students and their families have suffered at the hands of oppressors like Robert E. Lee. She’d rather glorify a myth, than work to remove symbols doing real harm to the children in our district.
We call upon the East Baton Rouge School Board, to act in the best interest of all children in our district and rename Lee High in honor of someone who worked in the collective interest of all children. We also condemn the words of Board Member Connie Bernard and suggest her resignation from the board effective immediately.
One of the pillars of the East Baton Rouge School System is building trust within the community, and trust cannot be built if board members are actively spreading false history and voting to keep racist symbols in place.
South Louisiana Coalition for Education
Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge