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Civil Rights Activists Want Robert E. Lee Elementary To Change Its Name

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In light of the tragic shootings in Charleston and the movement to remove the Confederate flag from government buildings, one small school in Long Beach is getting some attention for its name: The Robert E. Lee Elementary School.The Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Long Beach was established in 1898, the L.A. Times reports, just over three decades after the end of the Civil War. Until recently, no one seemed to really mind that the school had been named after the general of the Confederate Army. However, there's been a push to remove symbols of the Confederacy after Dylann Roof, a white man who glorified the Confederacy, shot and killed nine black men and women at a church in Charleston, SC. As the movement to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy grows—South Carolina just voted today to remove the flag from the State House—civil rights activists are pushing for the school to change its name, too.

A petition to change the name was delivered today by Pedro Baez, Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable Political Affair Director, the Press Telegram reports.

"The school is a culturally diverse school, predominantly black and brown, and we don't think it's right that a school in Southern California be named after a leader in the Confederate Army during the Civil War," Baez said.

"It seems odd to me that you have the Confederate general—the face of the Civil War—in one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country," Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an activist who supports changing the school's name, said.

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Chris Eftychiou, a spokesperson for Long Beach Unified School District, told the Times that the school has received a few complaints, but the school board has yet to consider the change.

It may seem weird to see a school with this name in the West, but Susan Ogle, the director of the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, said that there was actually a “considerable amount of veterans who settled”in SoCal. Many people from the South also traveled to SoCal hoping to strike it rich in the Gold Rush before the Civil War. There's another school in San Diego also named after the losing general, and that school is under similar scrutinization.

It's not just in SoCal that people are trying to get public places named after the General to be called something else. Activists want a portrait of Lee to come down from the Lee County Commission chambers in Florida. The Southern Poverty Law Center wants Alabama to cease holidays that honor both Lee and Confederacy president Jefferson Davis.

Opponents argue that to erase Lee is to erase history, and that Lee himself may not have actually condoned slavery, as insinuated in letters he wrote to his wife in which he called slavery a "moral & political evil in any Country." (Not so fast: That letter also posits that blacks would be better off in America than Africa and that slavery is really worse for white people.)