The old school on McDuff Avenue is getting a new name.
At this point, all that remains is the school board to make it official.
The community meetings are over, the voting is over. Duval County Public Schools superintendent Diana Greene made her recommendations Tuesday and supported the renaming of six schools named after Confederate leaders. The school board will make the final decision next Tuesday.
More:Duval’s superintendent Diana Greene recommends renaming 6 Confederate schools
Much of the attention – by far the highest number of votes and the hottest community gatherings – went to Westside High School, named after Robert E. Lee in 1928. The inauguration took place on his birthday, more than 50 years after his death and 60 years after the end of the Civil War, Lee himself said that building monuments for the Confederation would only make it harder for America to move forward.
Say what you are going to say about Lee’s place in history, he got that analysis to the point.
In the not-too-distant past, it would have been shocking to change the name of the McDuff Avenue school. At this point it will be shocking if not changed.
This is not just a sign of how the school has changed, but how it now has a predominantly African American student body that is largely supportive of a name change.
It’s also a sign of how this city has changed, how the views of some (but hardly everyone) have changed.
Mike Basford graduated from Lee High School in 1969, but his family ties to the school go back even further.
Both parents visited Lee. While his mother was graduating, his father joined the military. Bill Basford eventually became a lawyer, state salesman, and, when Mike was in high school, one of the earliest councilors in consolidated Jacksonville.
At the time, Lee High was underfunded and overcrowded – so much so that it, along with 14 other Duval County’s high schools, was stripped of accreditation in 1964.
“We had about 2,000 students – two were black,” said Mike Basford. “So we were integrated. Somehow. “
While the students came from a variety of backgrounds – from Skynyrd Blue Collar to Ortega Blue Blood – most were on the same page on some things. For example, Basford recalls when the students were voting on who to support in the 1968 presidential election: Richard Nixon (the Republican candidate), Hubert Humphrey (the Democratic candidate), or George Wallace (a Democrat who was a third party candidate candidate) years after his speech “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”.
“It’s been 50 years, but I think the school voted 90 percent for Wallace,” Basford said. “Some of us were pretty calm. We voted for Nixon. And I only remember one man who voted for Humphrey. “
More than 50 years after this unofficial vote, he believes he is back in the minority of his classmates. He supports changing the name of his high school.
He says that as an adult he didn’t think much about the name or Robert E. Lee.
“You didn’t analyze it,” he said. “When I got to high school, I saw the injustice of things, but I was still an admirer of Robert E. Lee. He was the way you identified your culture. He is said to have been a wonderful person who did the honorable thing by going home to fight for his home state. And you kind of bought that for yourself. “
Basford says his thinking about it didn’t change overnight.
He is now 69 years old, a lawyer, and an voracious reader, especially when it comes to the story. These days he’s reading a new book that he suggested to me, Something to be Home for Him – “Robert E. Lee and I: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause” by Ty Seidule.
In the book’s introduction, Seidule describes what happened in 2015 after recording a 5-minute talk for PragerU, a conservative website.
The video was titled, “Was the Civil War About Slavery?” And in the first few seconds Seidule answered the question with the words: “Many people do not want to believe that the citizens of the southern states were ready to fight and die in order to preserve the morally repulsive institution of slavery. There has to be another reason, we are told. Well, there is no such thing. The evidence is clear and overwhelming. Slavery was by far the most important cause of the civil war. “
This video went viral. More than a million people saw it in 24 hours. Today it has nearly 50 million views, which makes Seidule stand out, making it one of the most watched history lectures in history.
He readily admits that he is not saying anything that countless other historians have not yet said. The reason his video went viral is in part because of the timing and in part because of his blue U.S. Army uniform and the title next to his name: Director of the Department of History, United States Military Academy at West Point.
Seidule, now a retired brigadier general, grew up in Virginia and Georgia. To say that he spent much of his life worshiping Lee is not an exaggeration. He’s half joking that he had Lee at about 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 – which even for a good episcopal bishop put the Confederate general above Jesus. And when Seidule visited Washington and Lee University, he and other students went to Lee Chapel and “glanced at the altar of Saint Bob, as we called him.”
As he taught (and researched) history at West Point, his views on the Civil War, those who chose to fight the U.S. Army, and the institutions that perpetuated myths about its cause, changed.
“The problem is that the myths I learned were just wrong and fundamentally wrong,” he said. “And not only morally wrong, as if that wasn’t significant enough, but also factually wrong, be it through deception, denial or willful ignorance. The myths and lies I’ve learned have promoted some form of racial hierarchy and white supremacy. “
There wasn’t a single revelation for him, but he remembers marveling at some barracks at West Point named after Lee – and doing some research and discovering that naming happened long after Lee left, but shortly after 44 black cadets had arrived at the academy.
He also found that this was part of a pattern.
“I don’t have a ‘smoking gun,’ which Academy officials Lee Barracks called because of the tenfold increase in African American populations,” he says, “but I keep finding Confederate memorials as West Point intensifies integration.”
This is the case well beyond West Point. It happened on the west side of Jacksonville, among other places.
It is no coincidence that Jacksonville named schools after Confederate generals in two periods – first during the Jim Crow era in the 1920s, then after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that racial segregation was unconstitutional.
Mike Basford recalls that while he was in school, his family moved from Lee School District to the area where they were located in the zone of one of Jacksonville’s newest schools – named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general with no ties to ours Territory and a résumé that included being the first great wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Basford didn’t want to change schools. He stayed with Lee. He has some fond memories of his time at school on McDuff Avenue. He believes that a name change that would make Lee High go down the Forrest High path would not erase his memories or change the past – but could improve the future.
“I attribute Shakespeare,” he said. “He said, ‘A rose by any other name would smell so sweet.”
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