Should Robert E. Lee Elementary be renamed?

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Parents and students are pushing to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School on East Columbus Drive in Tampa.

During the public comment portion of the Hillsborough County School Board meeting on Tuesday, some people said it's offensive to the more than 50 percent of African American students that make up Robert E. Lee Elementary to have to attend a public school named after the general who led the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

James Cole, president of the Tampa NAACP youth Council, said he attended Robert E. Lee Elementary beginning in the fourth grade.

"I have this memory of walking up the stairs and seeing this giant picture of him, thinking this guy must be some sort of hero," said Cole. "It took until eight grade for me to actually learn that this guy would not have liked me just because of the color of my skin."

General Robert E. Lee has a name, and legacy, invokes different feelings among citizens. In recent months, there has been a push to remove his name, and the names of other Confederate leaders, from schools and uproot their statues across the South.

A similar push in 2015 led Hillsborough County Commissions to vote in favor of removing the Confederate flag from the lobby of the County Center, where it hung for 20 years.

A crowd of opponents also spoke out at Tuesday's meeting against stripping Lee's name from the school building.

They held signs signs that read Robert E. Lee is an "American Hero." They also questioned why his name should be removed from history for the sake of being politically correct in the current cultural climate.

"Robert E. Lee was a great American, and his virtues are worthy of being studied and adopted," said David McAllister with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He added, "Changing historical names is not something to be taken lightly, and I do not do so."

Those in favor of a new school name said they want it changed to Carter G. Woodson," an African American historian.

"He's the father of black history. The reason we have black history month is Dr. Carter G. Woodson. His name should be on that school," said one public commenter to board members.

Board members did to discuss the name change in Tuesday, since it was not on the meeting agenda.
If they consider changing the name, county policy would require 18 months of public input on the proposal before board members take a vote.