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.

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“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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  • TexasOlTimer

    I realize this is an older article but was researching and came across this. I’m offended by Louis Farrakhan, Cesar Chavez, Al Sharpton and Malcolm X. Martin Luther King tried to do things peacefully but I still am offended that every town appears to have a street named after him. Why can’t they all be removed…or do those that oppose the liberal point of view have no right to be offended?

  • Biff Henderson

    Funny thing . . . Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and (from 1865) the general-in-chief of Confederate forces, neither owned slaves nor inherited any. Hmmmm . . . guess we need to take Ulysses S. Grant’s statues down too as he actually owned slaves. Washington & Jefferson did as well . . . Hell, while we’re at it, let’s just acquiesce to the left wing Communist ANTIFA thugs & Black Power chumps and change the name of this country to: The United States of Africa. Our new language can be gHeTTo eBOnIcS. Sheeeeeeet give me a MOTHERF – – KING BREAK!!

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  • Mike Riley

    So well penned – thank you.

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  • Jimmy Lieb

    This is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Jennifer Yelton Henry

    My 3rd great grandfather, Philip Hendricks Yelton, moved from Kentucky to McKinney, Texas in 1856, became a Texas Ranger under Boren and Johnson, married a local gal, then joined the Confederate Army as part of Johnson’s Spy Company when the Civil War broke out. He was a P.O.W. in horrendous conditions at Camp Douglass near Chicago, and was among the last prisoners to be exchanged before the Civil War ended. He eventually made a home in Missouri, another Confederate State, where I was born. I eventually made my way back to Texas, and will have 2 daughters at Stonewall Jackson Elementary this year.

    It is with those credentials that I fully, and unreservedly support changing the name of their school to a name that better represents the values of Dallas and the United States of America (and my own), and better celebrates the diversity of our community in 2017. It is one thing to remember history, which we absolutely should do. It is another to ignore history by ensconcing in a place of honor the names of generals (both non-Texans) who willingly fought against the United States on behalf of a rebel army and a cause that, according to the Texas Articles of Secession, was unambiguously based on preservation of the “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery” against “the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color–a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law.” Historically speaking, naming these two segregated schools — both opened in the 1930s at the height of Jim Crow — after Confederate Generals was intended to send a message that while the South may have lost the war, inequality and oppression were alive and well. This is not a message we should be sending to students of color, or any students, today. Surely, we can figure out some names of deserved Dallasites, Texans, or Americans to replace these vestiges of our segregated past, and then have an honest conversation with our kids about why it’s important to make this change.

  • JohnyAlamo

    Sooooo…. a professor in “white flight” Collin County wants to tell Dallas taxpayers what to do with its own history……nah we’re good, thanks.

  • “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.

    Good. Leave.

  • Jim Cunningham

    Robert E. Lee, December 27, 1856: “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”

    Abraham Lincoln, September 18, 1858: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,”

    The American Civil War was complex. It reflects poorly on this “history” professor when he stands in judgment of the morality of people of 150 years ago. If he were consistent, he would seek to remove Washington’s name from the Washington Monument, etc. He should also seek to remove all male US leaders before August 18, 1920, from any public honor, because after all, they were elected when women had no right to vote…. This condemnation/revisionism could go on forever. Not one of our country’s heroes or leaders has been morally pure. This “history” professor is embarrassing himself and Collin College. If my child was learning history from this man, I would pull him/her out of the class.

  • Maud St James

    This mindset is absolutely ridiculous and downright offensive. Changing names will not change what happened in the past. What today’s idiotic ‘activists’ refuse to accept is that those who do not remember history will be condemned to repeat it. Looked at from a different point of view, if these rabble-rousers feel they have the right to erase names/monuments that are offensive to them, what would happen if in the spirit of equality others feel free to demand the removal of any mention of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Cesar Chavez, Al Sharpton and the like as offensive? The past is the past; they should be concentrating on the future, not using their energy and platform to eradicate the past.