Activist wants to rename our local ‘celebrations of white supremacy’

Robert E. Lee Elementary in East Dallas. Photo courtesy of Dallas ISD

A Feb. 1, 1931 Dallas Morning News article says that Stonewall Jackson Elementary will be named for the Confederate general “because of the high ideals of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, one of the unique and romantic figures of the War Between the States, and as a companion to the nearest school, the Robert E. Lee.”

Eighty-six years later, these two East Dallas schools named for leaders of the Confederate cause offend many in the Dallas community, especially Michael Phillips, a history professor at Collin College, who has penned an open letter and op-ed in The Dallas Morning News demanding the removal and renaming of the Confederate monuments and buildings in Dallas.

“These monuments lie about the past, and are a celebration of white supremacy,” Phillips says. “They send a toxic message and announce that racism is a core value of Dallas.”

Phillips will be leading a rally Thursday at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. There will be several speakers, including the Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters, who is founder and senior pastor of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Dallas. “In this phase of our effort, we are trying to educate and raise consciousness of this issue,” Phillips says.

Phillips notes several monuments do not fit with the values of Dallas, such as the Arlington House in Lee Park, the site of weddings and Christmas events. The house is a replica of Lee’s plantation home, a place where people were owned, women were raped and slaves beaten. For Phillips, to have celebrations in this space that is so clearly connected to Lee’s legacy is an ironic and perverse practice.

Two years ago, a petition circulated by an East Dallas neighbor called for a change to the Robert E. Lee Elementary’s name, but Dustin Marshall, the Dallas ISD trustee for East Dallas, says that a name change would have to be voted on by the school board, and no formal proposal from the community has been made, though he is aware of a group of parents who want to change the name.

“I’ve never had anyone say, ‘I object to that name.’ Because it’s really no one here’s fault,” Lee Principal Bert Hart told us when we interviewed him for a story this past spring. This coming school year will be Hart’s second as principal of Lee, which is an International Baccalaureate and dual-language campus that is growing more popular with homeowner families in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s one of those situations where it’s up to the community,” Hart says. “I have had people ask me about it. Some say it’s been the name for 75 years; it’s part of our history. Some say that day is past.”

Phillips says the myth that Lee was a benevolent slave owner is part of the problem and is one of the lies these monuments create. There is an account where one of Lee’s slaves was whipped 50 times and had his wounds rubbed with salt. Lee was opposed to any political rights for blacks, and the constitution he defended prohibited the abolishment of slavery.

Last year, Dallas ISD’s John B. Hood Middle School, in Pleasant Grove, was renamed Piedmont G.L.O.B.A.L. Academy after students voted to drop the name of the Confederate general.

Phillips notes that many of the schools and monuments were built well after the Civil War, used as a way for local politicians to flout the control of the federal government, and let it be known that Texas will keep doing things the way they always have. Lee and Stonewall, as Stonewall Jackson Elementary is commonly known, both were built during Texas’ Jim Crow period, during which a segregated society enforced poll taxes and literacy tests to keep African-Americans from voting.

“For this attitude to be consistently celebrated is repulsive and against the values of any country I would want to be a part of,” he says.

Additional reporting by Keri Mitchell


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