Rebranding Confederate named schools

William T. Robinson, Jr.

This is a time of awakening and social consciousness in America—when drastic, impeding social change is inevitable and will not be denied. Factions of an integrated populace are protesting in the streets daily, demanding radical changes from laws, policies, and practices that have thus far impeded justice and equality for so long to many of this country’s African Americans and people of color. Many Americans are advocating for the renaming of schools bearing the names of Confederates that for many African Americans symbolize slavery and White supremacy. However, many southern Whites emphatically claim these Confederate-named educational institutions celebrate and honor their heritage and legacy.

Institutions and schools named for Confederate ‘heroes’ are under attack, with many cities and towns seeking the rebranding of the names of these schools—renaming them for more benevolent leaders in America’s history. African Americans see current public tributes honoring former slave owners as disrespectful and a daily slap in the face. Some feel these Confederate named schools secretly act as uniting symbols for White supremacy and racism. It can also be seen as contradictory to honor many former slave owners—men who were traitors to our country. What other country in the world does this?

An Education Week analysis of federal data found in June of 2020 that there were 208 schools in 18 state named for men representing the Confederacy with five schools changing their names since June 29. While we are concentrating on schools named for Confederates, we must also be cognizant that there are numerous schools name after politicians, businessmen, dignitaries, and local leaders with racist pasts. Historically, the atmosphere in America was so penetrated with an air of White supremacy and subjugation that the powers that be felt comfortable etching the names of oppressors on institutions of learning, thus preserving their legacy and history.

Black children (descendants of oppressed slaves) are  attending schools named after their oppressors without knowing the details of the role of these racists or even slave-owners for which their schools are named. Honoring men with dehumanizing and questionable pasts bordering on subjugation, oppression and supremacy over others as well as outright traitors to their country should never have occurred. But many White descendants of the Confederacy have yet to accept defeat and let it go. By honoring the memory of many of their Confederate generals and other Confederates on school buildings, they can subliminally, clandestinely keep their legacy and quest for White supremacy alive.

Names of racists and staunch opposers of integration should not be on buildings of education. Whites who may feel differently have only to honestly and openly research this country’s past history and put themselves in the position of the descendants of slaves. They too would feel differently. But as it stands now, state laws and support for the Confederacy in southern states has curtailed efforts to rename many of these schools located below the Mason-Dixon line separating slaves states from free states.

You have a right to honor your ancestors (good or bad) because they represent your family, but it is not  fair to publically honor someone who may have a horrific history of being offensive and detrimental to any large group. These people caused pain, hurt and  psychological suffering. You can always honor members of the Confederacy or noted racists in your private homes, libraries, or on your own private property if you must—but not on school buildings supported by taxpayers. While you want others to respect your history and legacy, you must respect their history and how your history may cause them pain. Whether you like it or not, sometimes you may fall on the wrong side of history. You would think it would be the consensus of everyone to correct the disturbing consequences of past wrongs when possible.

If we are serious about bringing about changes to make this a more inclusive and united country, we have to make some concessions that may be hard and uncomfortable for many parties. But the litmus test should be: ‘What is in the right thing to do, regardless of one’s emotions.’ This country will never be the best it can be until it makes amends in the form of reparations for the hundreds of years of slavery, torture, rape, murder, lynching, Black codes,   Jim Crow Laws, disenfranchisement, segregation,  and ‘redlining’ against African Americans–denying and blocking descendants of slaves their political, social and economic equity in this country.

Rebranding schools bearing the names of those who have historically proven to be immoral and racist should be considered a small gesture in mitigating the racial hostility that is permeating this county. There exist a litany of well deserving Americans as replacements for renaming theses schools. Renaming a building may not eradicate the deep-rooted effects perpetuated by the original name, but it is a well-meaning gesture of empathy and compassion for a more united and inclusive America.

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