San Antonio's Battleground; Confederate Statues, Schools, and Police
Lauren Caruba wrote in the SA Express News, “The first thing students see when they walk into Robert E. Lee High School is an imposing, bronze statue of the Confederate general himself. His back is straight, his eyes affixed upward and his profile is elevated by a thick slab of pink granite. To one side, propped in a glass case, a poster dedicated by the Class of 1973 quotes Lee: “The education of a man is never completed until he dies.”
Confederate monuments nationwide are controversial, vilified and ardently defended. The national argument over racism, white Southern culture and what lessons America should learn from the Civil War is growing louder — and it’s returning to Robert E. Lee High School (in San Antonio).
North East ISD (NEISD) will you please wake up? The world as you know it has drastically changed. In fact since your 5-2 Board of Trustee vote in December 2015, to disregard the Change.org petition of Kayla Wilson, to rename her high school Robert E. Lee High School, there has been yet another Change.org request provided by another young person in 2017. The young person is 19 year old, Gianno Gomez, who has 3,267 signatures to date and everyday the list grows longer.
In nearby Austin, Texas, schools named after Confederate leaders have been renamed. Most recently, the University of Texas Austin took to the same decision and removed three Confederate statues from the grounds of their campus. President Gregory L. Fenves says, "last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation. These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism." He added, "The statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg are now being removed from the Main Mall. The Lee, Johnston and Reagan statues will be added to the collection of the Briscoe Center for scholarly study." As the University of Texas is a public institution of learning so is Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio. Tax payers are funding both schools.
In San Antonio, not only is the Confederate leaders and some call them traitors, have been challenged at Robert E. Lee High School (NEISD). Travis Park has been the scene of the last city wide protest organized to put political attention to the issue. San Antonio’s past Mayor Ivy Taylor, an African American woman, showed really no interest in changing the status quo. She held the line that we needed to expand these sites.
In her July 9, 2015 statement, even which White Power Breitbart plastered on their website in agreement, Mayor Taylor wrote, “Slavery and the Civil War are part of the American legacy. For more than 200 years we’ve been trying to fully realize the revolutionary premise of democracy: all men are created equal. Selectively erasing pieces of our past may make it more comfortable for us today but it also makes it easier for many to ignore the historic struggles of Blacks and other minorities in this country, a struggle for equality that continues today. It is offensive to use the rebel battle flag as a symbol of a city or state but it is also offensive to pretend that Texas was never a slave state or that racism has played no role in our history for the past 150 years. The City Manager has already directed staff to identify any monuments connected with Confederate history or symbolism and I will be receiving that report shortly, after which time the appropriate staff or Council committee can consider opportunities for expanding interpretation at these sites.”
This stance was very disappointing to African American leaders who helped advocate for Taylor to be in office that she would advocate to expand these sites versus tear them down. Some of San Antonio’s most prominent Black leaders, who refused to be quoted, indicated “Taylor received the Obama effect – she was opposed to policy and legislation that would directly benefit Black people – almost like she had to deny her own people to be acceptable to White constituents and political contributors.” Now the weight, or the shared weight rest with the City Mayor, Ron Nirenberg and some suggest a dormant Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
In 2015, Judge Wolff removed Confederate signs that appeared at Bexar County. He called for the removal of two plaques on County property; a 1936 Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway marker at the Bexar County Courthouse and a marker across Nueva Street from the courthouse that includes Confederate flags and a statement honoring Robert E. Lee.
Ironically during the past week, it was reported by the San Antonio Express News that Nelson Wolff’s daughter in law, Sandi Wolff resigned from North East ISD Board of Trustees because she is moving. Some speculate with President Trump’s overt siding with White extremist groups like the Klu Klux Klan and Skinheads, and Neo Natzi hate groups, if Wolff decided she could not be a part of another round of debate concerning Robert E. Lee High School. Robert E. Lee High School was Sandi Wolff’s school she was directly responsible for as a Board of Trustee. She painfully delivered harsh words to the African American community with her vote to support keeping the name in 2015. By the way she is also married to Kevin Wolff, Bexar County Commissioner, who probably is also sensitive to any more criticism, especially considering his embarrassing moment when he was turning cartwheels after being arrested under prescription drug influence.
The question is beside former Councilman Mario Salas and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert Jr., who has the will power to make the changes happening to our North and in places like my hometown, the City of Baltimore. The Mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, took very swift action and removed her Confederate statues without any fanfare in the middle of the night.
So I wonder this… In response to Kayla Wilson’s failed petition, Christopher Herring attempted to do the right thing and ran for an NEISD Board of Trustees seat to keep the issue alive. But he lost. By running he realized the North East ISD is not bound by the rule of the City Mayor, and he tried to make change. He said to me, “As I worked with our local NAACP Branch I was surprised how misinformed people are about the truth of Robert E. Lee. It was an insult for a school board to tell its’ minority community that we need to learn how to love Lee despite his flaws.” Herring lost. Wilson lost. So who is going to be brave a run for the seat vacated by Sandi Wolff? How does this issue play out over the entire 2017-2018 NEISD school year.
Because of the individual Blacks that have spoken up but not garnered the support of the Black community, maybe this petition has to rise up among White people who get it. White people who understand and can hold White people like NEISD Superintendent Brian Gottardy accountable? White people who say they value diversity in their homes and at work….these are the people who will get NEISD’s attention. Or maybe they will be like Heather Heyer, a victim not even honored appropriately by our US President. Maybe they are afraid of just being a victim too.
So we ask, how can one of the largest schools in San Antonio, have a shrine of a Confederate general who lost the Civil War, and is the rallying symbol for hate, racism and White Supremacy? Thousands of children in the public schools have to bow down and worship a Confederate general that many people in history called a traitor and unAmerican.
I am still wondering who will stand with Commissioner Calvert, Mario Salas, Kayla Wilson, and the new name Gianno Gomez? Certainly, we are almost two million people strong, but will our character as a city reflects that we are ok with preserving hate symbols, schools, and statues that keep us all as Americans oppressed. Please comment on our social media pages to tell us what are the next steps, and strategy to win this war. Email the NEISD Board of Trustees to let them know you care (BTW, Hughey, Wolff, Grona, Bresnahan, and Perkins all supported keeping the name of Robert E. Lee; Tony Jaso is the new board member):
Sandy Hughey, Secretary, District 1
Edd White, Trustee, District 2
Sandi Wolff, Trustee, District 3
Jim Wheat, Trustee, District 4
Shannon Grona, Vice President, District 5
Tony Jaso, Trustee, District 6
Brigitte Perkins, Trustee, District 7
Dr. Brian Gottardy