The city has three high schools that currently bear the names of men who were tied to the Confederate side of the Civil War: one named for Jefferson Davis, who served as the President of the Confederate States of America; one for General Robert E. Lee; and one for Sidney Lanier, who fought for the Confederacy as a private and later made a name for himself as a poet.
In each of the three votes, board member Lesa Keith dissented. In the cases of Davis and Lee, hers was the only dissenting vote. In the case of Lanier, her “no” vote was accompanied by that of board president Clare Weil, who had graduated from that particular high school.
Before the vote, a handful of community members expressed their thoughts on the issue. Half were fully in favor of renaming all three schools, while the other half supported renaming the schools named for Lee and Davis, but wanted Lanier to retain its name.
Lindsey Shelton, who claimed that she herself was a descendant of someone who fought for the Confederacy, says that the time has come to stop honoring those men.
“As a person whose family’s legacy has been in part defined by my ancestor’s choice to fight for the Confederacy, I will take every opportunity I can to actively work for the removal of Confederate iconography and symbols in public spaces, especially schools,” Shelton said.
Keith, for her part, got into a verbal disagreement with a Black woman.
“History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from it. And if it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us,” Keith said to the woman.
Montgomery’s plan to rename its schools may yet be derailed by Alabama law.
Specifically, the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prevents the renaming or removal of monuments and buildings more than 40 years old without approval of the state legislature. Montgomery’s request to rename its high schools will be reviewed by an 11-member committee later this fall.
If the committee declines the city’s request to rename the schools, the city will be on the hook for a $25,000 fine for each of the three attempts to rename the schools, as prescribed by law. The Montgomery Moving Forward committee has already raised $42,000 through private donations to help pay those fines, should they be levied.