Residents at a Florida school board meeting shockingly defended slavery during a debate about renaming Robert E. Lee High School.
The Duval County School Board has proposed removing the Confederate general’s name from the school in Jacksonville, CNN reported.
Board member Warren Jones wrote in the board’s proposal that ‘we must being the process of renaming all the schools named for a confederate soldier. This effort can help to heal a city that is fractured.’
But at a public meeting to discuss the renaming, some commenters in the audience hit out at the motion and appeared to defend slavery in America.
One man in the audience said: ‘It says in the Bible, Jesus himself never condemned slavery. In fact, he said slaves have an obligation to obey their master.’
Video shows alumni and others making controversial comments during the meeting.
The Duval County School Board has proposed changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida
The name of Robert E. Lee, the general who commanded the Confederate army during the American Civil War, still evokes an image of racism in the U.S.
A woman said: ‘I was taught that the chiefs of the tribes in Africa sold their people into slavery. If it had not been that way, there would not have been and slaves anywhere in America… So don’t blame Robert E. Lee. Maybe you should be after your ancestors.’
Another commenter said, ‘Communism slowly destroys a nation by removing all icons, such as Aunt Jemima’s face from pancake mix, Civil War statues, and other things like historical school names.’
Another wondered aloud, ‘If this high school is having problems, how long has it been predominantly African American?’
Their comments were blasted by others in the audience, and online after footage of recent meetings was posted by student organization EVAC Movement on Twitter.
Robert E. Lee High School Senior Class President Deyona Burton, who is black, told audience members she understands ‘the connection, the bond, the family and heritage that you feel is embodied in the name.’
‘When the name is so blatantly disrespectful that you choose to downplay the horrific actions that happened under that general, that flag,’ Burton said. ‘I humbly ask that the name calling on both sides stop. That we look at history objectively and honestly, that we make room for change.’
School senior Chris St. Louis said the video comments made him ‘feel uncomfortable, disgusted,’ First Coast News reported.
St. Louis and other supporters of the name change said the names of the high school and others in the district are symbols of racism. The ongoing discussion about renaming the schools is a difficult but necessary process, they said.
Residents and students attended meetings to discuss the prosed name change of Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida
A white woman at one of the meetings condemned the comments of some other community members.
‘I heard a lot of racist things as I stood because I think some of you good people thought I was one of you, but I am not,’ she said. ‘So I am here to say that all of this does make a difference. You are speaking from your white culture and your white self. And I ask you, take a deep breath.’
Another speaker, a white man, said the name was insulting to students from non-white ethnicities.
‘The Lee name, tied as it must be to slavery, is an affront to all students of color that seek an education here,’ he said. ‘It clearly undermines their self-respect and dignity by conveying for all to see that they are descendants of second-class citizens. From that flows the implication that they, too, are second-class citizens. It’s hard to imagine a more demoralizing tone set for students seeking to excel.’
Robert E. Lee High School Principal Timothy Feagins and Duval County School Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen and Vice Chair Darryl Willie have been approached for comment by DailyMail.com.
A Duval County schools spokesperson responded on behalf of the board and district Superintendent Diana Greene: ‘Community input will help inform [Greene’s] recommendation to the school board, and the school board will then discuss this in-depth as a formal action item. I am quite sure all of our board members will have much to say about this topic when it comes to them for formal action.’
One commenter opposed to changing the school’s name claimed, ‘It says in the Bible, Jesus himself never condemned slavery. In fact, he said slaves have an obligation to obey their master’
Another commenter said, ‘If this high school is having problems, how long has it been predominantly African American?’
A Twitter post demanded school board and department officials go on the record about their positions regarding a school name change and racist comments made in opposition to the proposal
Students as young as elementary school will be given the opportunity to cast ballots during the school day outside of instructional time on possible new names for schools in the district.
The affected schools in the Duval County system include J.E.B. Stuart Middle, Jefferson Davis Middle, Joseph Finegan Elementary, Kirby-Smith Middle and Stonewall Jackson Elementary.
Others who can vote until the end of March include residents living within the school’s attendance zone, members of the Parent Teacher Association or School Advisory Council, school faculty and staff and alumni.
The results from the voting process do not determine the new name of the school, but the superintendent and school board plan to take the poll into consideration.
A final decision is expected in June.
The Duval County School Board is expected to make a decision on the name change in June
Last month, school leaders in San Francisco put the renaming of 44 schools on hold after coming under fire for prioritizing the issue over reopenings and using Wikipedia as a reference point to determine which names were racist.
In a statement president Gabriela López acknowledged discussions on re-branding the institutions named after figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington had been ‘distracting’ and ‘mistakes have been made’.
The board first came under fire last month when it emerged committee members allegedly used references from Wikipedia and other non-scholarly sources to determine which personalities were racist and problematic.
López, 30, said Sunday: ‘We’re canceling renaming committee meetings for the time being. We will be revising our plans to run a more deliberative process moving forward, which includes engaging historians at nearby universities to help.’
Parents and residents had become concerned when it emerged that historians had not been consulted by the renaming committee.
Instead, several citations used in the debate have now been proven to be factually incorrect, including a false claim that American poet James Russell Lowell did not want black people to vote and that Paul Revere’s military activities were tied to ‘the conquest of the Penobscot Indians’.