Charles Henry is pressing the rest of his fellow Oklahoma City Public Schools Board members to make a public decision on controversial school names instead of taking polls first.
It’s about whether to rename three of the district’s schools established after statehood in 1907 that were named after confederate Civil War generals. America’s Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865.
For Henry, it’s a matter of right and wrong, not polling data.
And he reminded the board that the objection of anticipated expenses to rename the schools is off the table since a donor has been found who is willing to fund the changes.
In August Superintendent Aurora Lora agreed that there were problems with the appropriateness of schools that are named after Confederate Civil War generals, but wanted to have dialogue with the communities around the schools and possibly poll parents.
Other board members have been vocal about the questionable practice of leaving the school names, and some have supported Lora’s idea of engaging in polling and discussions with community members.
But Henry considers the offense of the three schools named after confederate generals to be so fundamental as to demand an up or down decision on the part of the Board.
In his view, it’s about whether black children will continue to attend schools named after Civil War generals who led an effort to defend slavery.
“The change that needs to happen is called progress,” Henry said. “What progress can be made if we are asking permission to remove treasonists [names] from our schools?”
During board comments he read a lengthy statement he prepared arguing against the school names on matters of principal and history. This is a part of that statement:
For myself and millions of black Americans living today that have died in the last hundred years those that were slaves and millions of Americans that are not black, slavery is defined as an institution that justifies legal rape, legal child molestation, legal murder, legal maiming, legal cutting of body limbs, legal removal of families, legalized selling of people, legalized beatings of adults and children and the legal refusal to allow blacks to read and write.
The board was to take action at Monday’s board meeting, but the matter was pulled from the agenda.
Board Chair Paula Lewis said the matter would be taken up at the next regular board meeting Oct. 23.
Several people had signed up to speak on the matter and did so anyway even though the matter had been postponed.
Stand Watie Elementary and Stonewall Jackson Middle School are quite obviously named after Civil War generals.
Some vigorously questioned whether or not Lee Elementary was named after Civil War General Robert E. Lee or one of Oklahoma City’s early real estate tycoons.
But, the fact that a significant number of older south side residents have been defending Lee school’s name because they always believed it was named after Robert E. Lee is a strong indicator of what the name has meant over time to that part of the city putting it squarely in the issue.
Indeed, the only two people who showed up to argue against renaming any of the schools at Monday’s board meeting spoke against renaming Lee Elementary by arguing for what they considered to be the virtues of General Robert E. Lee.
Larry Logan represented the organization called Sons of the Confederacy and spent his whole public comments time defending Robert E. Lee.
Susan Crew, another district patron who signed up to speak, attended Lee Elementary.
She defended Robert E. Lee as the namesake of the school as well.
“I went to Robert E. Lee school, but we didn’t call it Robert E. Lee, we just called it “Lee School,” Crew said.
She named off presidents who had held slaves in her argument for keeping the Lee name for Lee Elementary.
“We want to be left alone,” Crew said. “We want our schools to be left alone. We want our schools to be named how they are named.
Candace Liger, whose two children are in OKCPS schools, didn’t agree.
“I don’t need to know of the good deeds that a slaveholder has done. I don’t need to know of the good deeds that a confederate general did in his lifetime,” Liger said. “What I do need to know is the history that is perpetuated continuously throughout my own children’s’ education.”
Dana Brockway spoke representing the NAACP – Oklahoma City.
“We ask that you be champions to change history to a positive healing force for us,” Brockway said. “We ask that you be champions for people who have been disadvantaged through history.”
Free Press visited with her in the hallway on her way out and asked what she thought was the central issue in the school naming controversy.
“You can’t ask a non-minority to speak for a minority,” she said. “They won’t know the hardships. My walk with never be the same as a non-minority. My experience will never be the same as a non-minority.”
Charles Henry’s prepared statement (with his edits after the meeting)CHARLES HENRY'S PREPARED BOARD STATEMENT 9-25-17