Tyler ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford believes there will be a vote whether to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School. At a meeting Tuesday night at St. James CME Church in Tyler, Crawford and community leaders talked about the process. He also said there was other support.
From Earl Campbell.
The Tyler native and NFL and college football hall of famer was one of many community leaders who gave Crawford permission to share they are supportive of the issues brought up at the meeting Tuesday. He said Campbell said he also supported this as, “a future agenda item that could be considered by our board.”
“If it gets put on the agenda, it’s not just going to be one name it’s going to be both (Robert E. Lee and John Tyler High), and quite frankly it needs to be both,” said Fredonia Baptist Church Pastor Kilton McCracken Sr. “I don’t want to send my son to any school named after someone with ties to the confederacy.”
Crawford said he hopes the business will be handled in a tight manner at a special meeting so that regular board meetings can be used to address the daunting task of reopening schools. Board member Yvonne Atkins was also in attendance.
“I’m from East Texas and this is my adopted home town,” said Crawford. “Outside influences and mean-spirited and hate do not solve an issue. The last time this came up it got a little hateful. We are very appreciative there has been conversations with community members, with individual trustees within their districts. I’ve had conversations, and with some of you in this room.”
The goal of the meeting was to get supporters on the same page, announce steps going forward and work toward unity with those in opposition after a vote is taken.
McCracken announced a community fund to help pay for the name change is being created, and said he had been in frequent discussion with his friend, Tyler ISD Board President Wade Washmon.
McCracken said he had heard the argument taxpayers would foot the bill, and while he understood that, he also believes it should not be used as a deflection.
“As our school board president has told me countless times, there is no cost on morality,” McCracken said.
Pastor Ricky Garner of Bethel Bible Hope church said he is circulating a letter of pastors to present to the school board to call for them to be the last Tyler ISD board to allow the name to be on the building.
“We’re going to circulate this letter for faith leaders in our community,” said Garner. “We need buy in from all segments of the community, this is not a black and white issue. It’s a right and wrong issue.”
Garner said he has spoken to board members and expects there will be a special meeting called the week of July 13 to 17 with an action item regarding the name change on the agenda.
“We understand there will be (a special meeting) called sometime between the 13th and the 17th,” Garner said. “We were told that when a special meeting is called it can happen one of two ways, it can be discussion or an action item. Our understanding is that this meeting that will be called, will be with an action item.”
Garner also called on business leaders in attendance to draft a letter of their own.
Tyler Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Mullins and former Smith County Commissioner David Stein also were in attendance.
Several former and current Lee students also spoke. Student Honor Neal said that she hopes to see this movement go beyond just the name of Robert E. Lee, and is working on a plan to present that would give the district suggestions on implicit bias training for teachers.
Incoming Lee senior Lila Katz said she hopes to find a platform so students and alumni can share their experiences, good and bad, at the school.
“I feel like there is an additional piece to this issue we can utilize to move forward,” she said. “To make history, to change and right the wrongs of the past we need to allow the voices of the typically unheard to be heard.”
Pastor Lester Dewberry, of Mt. Rose Baptist Church, said that this is about justice for everyone, not just one segment of the population. He said what is happening in the world right now is a movement for justice ordained by God.
“We believe it is far past time for some of these things,” Dewberry said. “And I’d like to say this: I think it’s shameful that with all the things happening in the country that our part of the universe seemingly doesn’t want to go on with the movement that has been ordained by God, because it’s a worldwide movement. I would dare not send a Jewish child to Hitler High.”
Garner said he has heard the concern that if cities and schools begin to change names, where does it stop?
“I think that the more appropriate question, is where do we start?” Garner said. “I just believe that in the climate were living with in this world that there is no better place to start than ... the low hanging fruit of Robert E. Lee.”
He said that the goal of the meeting was to find a unified voice, ask the board to make a change and then work together to find healing and reconciliation.
“Let’s pray that in a few weeks from now, we can all be celebrating we don’t have this stigma in our city and we can move beyond that,” he said.