James Douglas with the NAACP kicked off the debate, saying there’s a difference between history and honor.
“All of you who are going to speak in support of not changing these names, close your eyes and think where me and my people would be if they had won,” Douglas said.
“But what we have to realize is changing a school’s name is not going to affect this racism, nor reverse the effect of history,” said Iona Nechiti, an eighth grader at Lanier Middle School. “This inequality has already been identified but it has nothing to do with our schools.”
Like Nechiti, many community members from Lanier Middle School wanted to keep that name.
Lanier was a Confederate soldier and later became a poet, describing the cost of war.
Some believed that distinguished him from other Confederate names, like Jefferson Davis High. Some said that at an estimated $2 million, the cost of renaming schools was too much when HISD faces a budget shortfall.
Others saw it differently. Trustee Rhonda Skillern Jones said that dignity comes before dollars.
“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. There’s not a degree of wrong,” Jones said.
Anna Eastman tried to defer the decision to school communities. She’s the trustee for Jefferson Davis High. Previous to the board vote, all three school had held community forums to discuss the potential name change.
“There’s conflicting opinions there about whether or not the name should be changed,” Eastman said. “And so I think they deserve to go through a democratic decision-making process and bring us a recommendation.”
That idea failed. The board took three separate votes for each campus. Each time, the votes fell largely along racial lines.
“There’s a racial divide in this country,” said Trustee Jolanda Jones. She represents Lanier Middle School.
“But maybe if I were white, and I didn’t have the systematic oppression of slavery and discrimination, then maybe I’d be proud of the name Sidney Lanier, too. But this is on the right side of the moral universe for me,” Jones said.
The three schools join four others that will start the renaming process. Reagan High is the next and final school on the list.