"You feel arrogant here and you shop while you show the pain and grief of the people in this community because you don't give a damn and you must resign," activist Gary Chambers Jr. said to board member Connie. Bernard in the audience. "You should get …
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“You feel arrogant here and you shop while you show the pain and grief of the people in this community because you don’t give a damn and you must resign,” activist Gary Chambers Jr. said to board member Connie. Bernard in the audience.
“You should get out of here and quit and never come back because you are the example of racism in this community,” he added. “You’re awful.”
Chambers’ fiery comment at the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board Hearing on June 18 comes amid a new trial with systemic racism, white supremacy and police violence against blacks, spurred by the police murder of George Floyd.
Part of that calculation has been an impulse to remove monuments or odes to the Confederacy, the collection of states that separated and waged a war against the Union for the right to enslave blacks.
Last week, school board member Dadrius Lanus introduced a resolution to establish a committee to rename “Lee High School,” which was originally named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In 2016, the board voted to remove “Robert E.” of the name, but his surname remained.
However, days before the hearing, board member Connie Bernard said she wanted to keep the name to honor the school’s legacy. It also encouraged people to do more research on Lee’s story.
“I hope they learn a little more about General Lee, because General Lee inherited a large plantation and was tasked with doing something with the people who lived in that plantation’s slavery, the slaves, and he freed them,” she said, according to WVLA / WGMB, a CNN affiliate.
- 1 Chambers accuses Bernard of buying online
- 2 Robert E. Lee’s story as a slave owner
Chambers accuses Bernard of buying online
At the June 18 board meeting, Chambers snapped a photo of Bernard as his laptop screen displayed a shopping website and then showed it to the board when he began speaking.
“I was planning to go up here and talk about how racist Robert E Lee was, but I’m going to talk about you Connie,” Chambers said. “Sitting there shopping while talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a photo of you shopping while talking about racism in the history of this country.”
He said Lee was a “brutal” slave master, quoted a slave’s account of being beaten, and told the board to “stop being a slave in 1856.” He also said that the school should be named after someone on “the right side of history,” such as Louisiana’s first black governor, P.B.S. Pinchback
“We build this board for free,” he said emphatically. “And we ended up begging you to do the right thing.”
Finally, the school board resolution was unanimously approved, with all nine members, including Bernard, voting in favor, according to the meeting minutes.
Since then, Bernard has apologized for his comments, according to CNN affiliate WBRZ.
“My comments last week about the appointment of Lee High School were callous, they have caused pain to others and led people to believe that I am an enemy of people of color, and I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I condemn racial injustice in any form. I promise to be part of the solution and to listen to the concerns of all members of our community. I am with you, in love and respect.”
Bernard, who did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, told The Advocate on Friday that what people saw on his laptop was not his purchase, but a pop-up ad that he could not close.
“I wasn’t buying,” he told the newspaper. “I was actually taking notes, paying attention, reading comments online.”
However, Chambers later posted a video with a 20-second clip of his displacement on the shopping website.
Robert E. Lee’s story as a slave owner
Lee personally owned enslaved people and took command of 189 others after his father-in-law died in 1857, according to the American Civil War Museum.
The father-in-law’s will stipulates that enslaved people be released within five years, but Lee asked state courts to extend his control over them, the museum says. The state courts denied their requests, and Lee officially released the enslaved people on December 29, 1862, just days before the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lee also punished escape attempts harshly. In 1859, he ordered the lashing of three enslaved people who attempted to escape, according to an 1866 account by Wesley Norris.
“In the meantime, General Lee remained standing, and frequently ordered (a county agent) to put him well, a mandate he did not fail to pay attention to; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, General Lee then ordered the supervisor to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done, “Norris said on the account.
On Facebook last week, Lanus asked Bernard to take a closer look at this story.
“I tell you, Mrs. Bernard, that Robert E. Lee is not a man to be honored by our students, especially students of color!” he wrote. “Forcing our students to attend a school with that name is not only demeaning, it is culturally insensitive and a violation of our students’ rights!”
NAACP Baton Rouge leaders similarly said the school’s name change had been long overdue.
“The naming of schools after the Confederate heroes is rooted in history, a history of intimidation, degradation, and racism against blacks in the United States,” they wrote.
“To move forward, we must honestly recognize the failings of the past and listen to those who feel marginalized.”