Ruth Campbell, Staff Writer
Other schools in Texas have made changes to mascots and school symbols to avoid controversy.
Some see it as a strike against integration, but others say the name of Robert E. Lee High School was chosen by students before the building opened in September 1961.
Oren Albright was a freshman at Midland High School before Lee opened and said he remembers voting on the name.
"As I remember, there was a group that got several names together and it was actually voted on by students. … I was going to be a sophomore when it opened," he said. Lee was opened because students had "outgrown" Midland High.
Midland ISD Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Wilson Heidelberg — a 1966 Midland High graduate — said to name the school, kids turned in nominations. They also submitted their choice for colors and mascot.
Those prospects were voted on at the campus level, then sent to the school board for its approval. "That’s the normal process," Heidelberg said.
When the school was named, Heidelberg said there were fewer Hispanics, more whites and about the same percentage of blacks in the city. In 1991, the Confederate flag, a longtime symbol for Lee High School, was banned.
Mary Anderson, a member of the Class of 1962 and Lee’s first group of graduates, said she remembers voting on the school colors and song. She now teaches elementary school in Durham, N.C.
"I think it’s time those things were dropped. I think they have a bad connotation and ought to be changed. This is 2006," Anderson said.
Alma Marshall, a retired longtime teacher, was part of a 1991 committee that reached the compromise with MISD on dropping the Confederate flag as a Lee High School symbol. Marshall said she didn’t know the Lee Freshman yearbook was called "The Confederate," or "I would have raised hell a long time ago."
"The school was named as Midland’s strike against integration," Marshall said.
There are at least four other Lee High Schools in Texas — all with Gen. Lee as their namesake. They include schools in San Antonio, Tyler, Houston and Baytown. The Lee High Schools in San Antonio, Houston and Tyler have changed their mascots or dropped the Confederate flag as Lee did in 1991. Baytown’s mascot is the gander.
Bill Fish, former Lee High School principal for North East Independent School District in San Antonio, said his school gradually dropped the "stars and bars" from its sports and band uniforms after more minorities moved into the community.
"Some of the students and parents were not comfortable with the stars and bars being a large part of the uniform," Fish said, since it was seen as a symbol of segregation and exclusion.
He added neo-Nazi groups had also started using the Confederate flag as a symbol.
As new uniforms were purchased, the flag was phased out. But not everyone was happy — people demonstrated in front of Fish’s house.
Seeing the dispute in San Antonio, the Marietta, Ga., chapter of the Ku Klux Klan circulated a newsletter. That’s what stopped everything. "Thinking people realized it was a much larger issue than the school system," Fish said.
Another helpful factor for Fish is the superintendent supported him throughout. "And he was a graduate of Robert E. Lee, which helped a lot," Fish said.
Houston ISD has its own Lee High School. A district spokesman said the school’s nickname is the Generals.
"They did have a cartoon character in a gray uniform, but that was dropped in 2000 in favor of generic cavalry soldier with a Texas flag," spokesman Norm Yuhl said. From 2000 to 2004 or 2005, the school didn’t have a mascot until it came up with the soldier.
It was not explained why the original mascot was dropped, but he speculated it was probably a "sensitivity thing."
Lee High School is considered an international school with dozens of languages spoken. "That school is most diverse high school in town," Yuhl said.
The mascot for Tyler’s Robert E. Lee High School is the Red Raiders, originally the Rebels. It was decided to drop the Confederate flag, "Dixie" fight song, rebel mascot and cannons in October 1971. The Red Raider symbol was chosen in February 1972.
The school used to have cannons with cannonades dressed in gray uniforms, according to Mary Jane McNamara, a volunteer in the archives area of the Smith County Museum and Historical Society in Tyler.
"We have always had a very large African-American population. With integration and children being bussed from Emmett Scott to Robert E. Lee, the situation at an explosive point all the time," McNamara said.
When Emmett Scott, a black high school, closed due to integration, students were sent to either Lee or John Tyler High School. "This county was very important during the Confederacy. We had a Confederate prison camp for soldiers from Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri," McNamara said. The city also had arms factories and many Confederate units were raised there.
"It (Rebels) was a divisive name and the atmosphere had to be done away with," McNamara said.