That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so the Bard said as he put these words into the mouth of Romeo.
21st century update: That which we call a turd by any other name would stink like spoiled meat.
In Jacksonville, Florida, we are refighting the Civil War, sometimes known as the War Between the States, and by some on one side of the argument, the War of Northern Aggression Against the Southern States.
As a famous Miami Herald Columnist would say, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not making that up.
At issue is the renaming of six schools whose monikers match that of five Southern Generals for the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee (1928), J.E.B. Stuart (circa 1965, the building began as Nathan Forrest High School), Kirby-Smith (1923), Joseph Finnegan (Confederate general who won the Battle of Olustee, opened 1968), and Stonewall Jackson (Google, you failed me, but the location makes GOT suspect the 1960s), as well as ol’ Jeff Davis himself, the president of the Confederacy (circa 1961).
The process kicked off last summer after the Black Lives Matters protests across the nation that caused many to consider the ways that racism and white supremacy are part of the background of the United States.
The local school board passed a resolution to look into the possibility of renaming schools whose names are offensive to a large segment of the city’s population, including its students of whom African-Americans form a majority.
Reaction was swift and predictable as people complained about cancel-culture, erasing history, and violating their sense of their heritage as Southerners. (Read that last bit as white Southerners. You will never hear black Southerners defending the antebellum years of slavery, the postbellum years of segregation and Jim Crow, and the post-Civil Rights era–1960s–as a heritage that must be honored and protected.)
Of the six schools that are in the renaming process, that might end up with no name change, the most controversial is Robert E. Lee High School.
The first thing to notice is that these schools have two eras of construction and naming: the 1920s, the time of the red scare and the re-emergence of the KKK, and the 1960s, the time of resistance to Brown vs. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.
These schools were named not so much to remember great men or to preserve a heritage. They were shots fired in a war as black people pressed for full rights and inclusion in American society.
The names went onto white-only schools as they were built and opened in the era of segregation that is part of the formative history of a city that proclaims itself ‘The Bold New City of the South.’
Now, in the time of Black Lives Matter, this history matters because of the resistance of many white people to dealing with the past, a past they say they remember with pride, but their resistance is more related to their fear of the future, a future when a diverse society is the norm and no one race is the majority.
What’s in a name? A rose would still smell as sweet and alumni would not have their high school memories diminished or dishonored if the name changed. You can’t change history, they say, and they are right. A name change would not change their memories.
Clearly, this battle is not about that.