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“Robert E. Lee Was a Brutal Slave Master”: Activist’s Call to Rename Louisiana School Goes Viral

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We play a video that has now gone viral from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where community activist Gary Chambers Jr. calls out members of the Lee High School school board for their racism during a June 18 meeting to discuss a resolution to rename the school, which is named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Chambers urged members to choose a name in honor of people who fought slavery and racism, not someone who defended it, and addressed board member Connie Bernard, who had defended Robert E. Lee and was seen shopping on her computer during the meeting.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about the issue of lynching in this country — I’m not talking about a hundred years ago, but now — in a moment, but first I want to go to a video that has gone viral. We’re turning to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a video of a well-known community activist calling out members of the school board for their racism has gone viral. The board was meeting to discuss a resolution to change the name of Lee High School, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. This is Gary Chambers Jr. addressing the board member Connie Bernard after he noticed she was online shopping during the meeting. Bernard can be seen walking out as Chambers speaks.

GARY CHAMBERS JR.: So, I had intended to get up here and talk about how racist Robert E. Lee was, but I’m going to talk about you, Connie, sitting over there shopping while we’re talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a picture of you shopping, while we’re talking about racism and history in this country. Only white members of this board got up while we were up here talking, too, because you don’t give a damn, and it’s clear.

But I’m going to tell you what the slaves, my ancestors, said about Robert E. Lee, since you don’t know history, sister. Let me tell you that they said, when he got the plantation, after he got off the field where 27,000 people died, at Gettysburg, Connie — Robert E. Lee was a brutal slave master. Not only did, when he whooped the slaves, he say, “Lay it on ’em hard,” after he said, “Lay it on ’em hard,” he said, “Put brine on them,” so to burn them. That’s what Robert E. Lee did.

And you sit your arrogant self in here and sit on there shopping, while the pain and the hurt of the people of this community is on display, because you don’t give a damn, and you should resign! You should have resigned two years ago, when you choked a white man in his house. You should have resigned two weeks ago, when you got on TV and said foolishness. And you should walk out of here and resign and never come back, because you are the example of racism in this community. You are horrible.

Now to the rest of the board. You have an obligation to the people of this community, and 81% of them are Black. And do you need a Klan rally outside, Mr. Gaudet, before you end it? Because holding it up means that you put that building in jeopardy. You do, sir, because all over the country, they’re burning stuff down. And Black folks in this city have stood with protesters. I ain’t seen you elected officials out there with them, making sure that nothing goes south in Baton Rouge. It’s been folks in this community who give a damn, not just when it’s comfortable, but every time. And four years ago, we came down here.

Mr. Drake, they say you’re a good man. Be a good man. Black folks say you’re a good man. White folks say you’re a good man. Your legacy is attached to tonight, brother. Your legacy.

Now, let me say to the Black members of the board, it’s the most solidarity I done seen out of y’all in forever. Let’s keep at that. Let’s stand on this, moving forward, because we don’t need to apologize for Connie, Evelyn. She showed you who she was when she was sitting next to you while you were talking, shopping. You don’t need another example.

Now, when do we, as Baton Rouge, stop being in 1856? If you want to name the building after somebody, how about P.B.S. Pinchback, the first Black governor of the state of Louisiana, when he was governor during Reconstruction? You want another name? Oscar Dunn, who was the lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana in the 1860s, that gave the right for Dadrius Lanus and Dawn Collins and Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Tramelle Howard to get here. You want to name it after somebody from Reconstruction? Name it after the people who fought for abolition of slavery. If you want to name it after somebody, honor the right people, the people who were on the right side of history.

But it’s your ancestor that the school is named after, so you’re holding onto your heritage. But we built this joint for free, and we’re done begging you to do what’s right.

SUPT. WARREN DRAKE: Thank you, sir.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Gary Chambers addressing the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday. They voted unanimously to form a special committee to come up with alternative names for Lee High School.

This is Democracy Now! When we back, lynching in America. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Hold On Just a Little While Longer,” the Virtual Choir during the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington.

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