By Diana Martinez, Special to El Paso News
Imagine, will you, that you have no consent about what is done to your body. That in and of itself is a violent violation. In slavery people did not own their own bodies. Rape and torture were permissible by law. Robert E. Lee was not a complicit by standard to preserve slavery, nor was he conscripted into the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee made a conscious choice to be the leader to maintain white power over millions of African Americans that were tortured everyday by plantation owners just like himself. There is a written account of him ordering a slave to be whipped. Additionally, he ordered brine, salt water, to be rubbed into the open wounds from the lashings. An uncritical historian will argue,”Well, I don’t think he must have been that bad.” The legacy of slavery cast a long shadow that has pervaded our public institutions to maintain white power, racial violence, and oppression since Reconstruction. It did not die, but only continued with a new name. The African American community has not fully healed only because new brine has continued to be poured over old wounds. Glorifying the perpetrators of white power and violence keeps those wounds open.
School names, monuments, and statues are for heroes and roles models. They are placed up high so we can we can figuratively and physically look up to them. Children look up to see the name of a role model on a school building. However by putting the name of a person who led the fight to maintain white power over black bodies, we continue to send the message to African Americans that it was and still is acceptable to violate their bodies. The normalization of racialized violence and the glorification of white supremacist continues the narrative into the present that black bodies, minds, dreams, and lives don’t matter. That goes against the the decision of Brown vs. Board of Education where we are supposed to be all be seen as equal. Taking down the name is not erasing history. That is not how the process of how history is done. Names on buildings and statues are not primary sources of the Civil War. These were projects funded and supported as a backlash against expanding civil rights for African Americans along with other minorities. A public school building should recognize the human dignity and equality of all Americans.
In solidarity from a Latina historian,
Postscript: At Tuesday’s El Paso Independent School Board meeting board voted five to one to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Ryan Mattison led the charge to rename the school. He started a petition on Change.org to rename it: “Rename Robert E. Lee Elementary in El Paso TX.” It reached 611 signatures as of June 16, 2020.