Why would a school in Washington state be named after Robert E. Lee, anyway?

There is a Robert E. Lee Elementary School in East Wenatchee, Washington, and some community members are irate because the school board has proposed changing the name to just Lee Elementary. Some because it doesn’t go far enough.

“Lee needs to be gone, period,” JJ Jackson told the board before the vote. “My kids attend schools in this district and they come home daily complaining about racism, about teachers,
about clothing that a white kid can wear, but they can’t,” said Jackson, who is black. “Please
explain how the world’s biggest gang, the KKK and neo-Nazis, why it’s OK to support them.
Going forward, Lee is a no. It needs to be gone.”

I’m with him. Others, it’s because, well, change is bad, I guess.

“You should reject this group’s agenda because it will not stop with this name. This is but a microcosm of what is happening in our country. There are more important issues like assuring
our kids are getting a quality education,” he said. “Leave it the way it is. Set the standard right
here and now and stand up to this.”

I would like to know what “quality education” this fellow wants to see in his schools that’s more important than the complaints that Mr Jackson brought up. I rather suspect that they’re more of the conservative agenda than anything to do with actually improving and funding public education.

Maybe somebody should point out to them that, while Washington was not a state at the time of the Civil War, the territory did side with the North and actually recruited the Washington Territory Volunteer Infantry to support the defense of the region during that war.

Bonus amusement: there is a Ulysses S. Grant Elementary in Wenatchee.

Eggers also suggested addressing Grant Elementary at the same time, though that suggestion did not move forward.

As long as someone is explaining what side Washington was on in the Civil War, they might also mention that Grant was a Northern general and American president, and was not a slave-holding traitor to the country.


  1. pocketnerd says

    I find questions of “Should we name buildings, roads, bridges, and other public works after this person?” are clarified by replacing names with descriptors for the purposes of discussions.

    Really Smart Guy/Lady Federal Building: Go for it.
    Local Boy/Girl Done Good Memorial Bridge: Sure, why not?
    Treasonous Slaver Elementary School: No. Just… no.

  2. Owlmirror says

    Come now, the surname “Lee” is far too common for it to be held by only detestable individuals. I suspect that one Lee in particular might be tickled to have a school rebranded after his name.

  3. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Owlmirror stole a bit of my thunder, but a few more Lees to consider:

    Patrick Henry or Lighthorse Harry–same family, but lived during the Revolution.
    Bill Lee–great pitcher in his prime, sure to piss off the righties
    Annabelle Lee–professional pitcher, taught Bill Lee how to pitch
    Brenda Lee
    Peggy Lee
    Bruce Lee
    Harper Lee
    Stan Lee

  4. says

    When someone says what you were going to say, the ethical thing is to upvote them.
    +1 Owlmirror
    +1 What a Maroon

    I’ll be in my room, grumbling.

  5. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Kip T. W.,

    Happens to me all the time. One thing I’be learned on the internet: I’m not very original.

    And of course I meant Richard Henry, not Patrick.

  6. ldamon says

    Ulysses Grant actually had a history with the Washington Territory. He was stationed at the Vancouver Barracks during his initial period of military service prior to the Civil War. Some have even suggested that the depressing climate contributed to his picking up a drinking habit. As a former resident of Vancouver, I’ll lift a glass to that.

  7. Zeppelin says

    I wish you’d stop calling the Confederates “traitors” as if that’s relevant. It’s a weirdly reactionary insult, coming from you. Who cares if they “betrayed” some stupid 19th century government? That’s not what’s wrong with them.

    It’s true, legally, I guess, but it tells us nothing about their moral character. Loyalty to The Nation is not in itself a virtue, and “betraying” a country/government isn’t in itself wrong — it depends on what you’re betraying and why. Whistleblowers are traitors. As was anyone who “betrayed” Britain in the US War of Indepencence, presumably. George Washington was also a “slave-holding Traitor to The Country”, just a different country.

  8. blf says

    Eh? Whistleblowers are not, a priori, traitors, and people fighting a war for slavery have the same “moral character” as a coprolite — which is not flattering to coprolites.

  9. analog2000 says

    I don’t understand these “there are more important issues” people. They say that it isn’t worth arguing about, it is so incredibly inconsequential, there are so many more important things, etc. Then change the name! If it is so irrelevant it isn’t worth your time, just change the name and the argument will be over. What they are really saying is that racism shouldn’t be an important issue. That we SJWs should just “get over it” and worry about something else. If the name isn’t a sign of racism and isn’t important enough to care about, why do they have such a problem with changing it? Why don’t they just do it? After all, it has no larger meaning and doesn’t matter….. It’s like they can’t hear their own words.

  10. legion600 says

    I have to correct an error you have made PZ. As much as I like to point out the stupidity of the town I grew up in, this school is in East Wenatchee, WA. It is a separate city from Wenatchee and even in a different county.
    As for why it was named after Lee, it has a lot to do with the influx of workers from Arkansas and other southern states after World War II who decided that if the town had a school named for Grant then Lee should get his due.
    Not that Wenatchee doesn’t have its own racist history with a large Klan chapter that used to march in the yearly Apple Blossom Festival Parade. However, even those city fathers weren’t stupid enough to name a school after a confederate general.

  11. kupo says

    Just changing it to Lee isn’t enough. Elementary schools around here are named for historical figures, such as Rosa Parks, A. G. Bell, etc. People know which Lee is being referenced in this context. Even if it weren’t clear, they could just look at the historical name.

    I do like Harper Lee, though. Let’s go with that.

  12. woozy says

    Or Barbara Lee.

    …. but… people change names of public schools all the time! Usually because they want to honor someone… or because they want to stop honoring someone.

    It may not be an *important* issue but it sure as heck is an *inexpensive* and common issue.

    The way I see it, the question is Do you want to keep honoring Robert E. Lee either tacitly or explicitly? If one has arguments as to why one wishes to continue honoring Lee… well, I’m willing to hear them. But I don’t think anyone can really be surprised or claim it is upsetting when a community majority votes to stop honoring him.

    I mean seriously. If there was a poll “Should we honor Robert E. Lee?” can anyone really be upset if the result is an overwhelming “no”.

    Changing it to just Lee is kind of chicken-shit, though.

  13. Zeppelin says

    @blf: I think you may have missed my point. I didn’t say fighting a war for slavery tells us nothing about a person’s moral character, I said the fact that they committed treason tells us nothing about their moral character. Because you can commit treason for good or bad reasons, and in many cases you may even have a moral duty to commit treason. That fighting a war for slavery was, in this case, also treason, is incidental. They were on the wrong side because of the slavery bit, not the treason bit.

    If a label applies with equal accuracy to a good person doing the right thing and to an asshole doing the wrong thing, it’s not a good insult. Would your views on Edward Snowden’s moral character change if he was convicted of treason?

  14. JustaTech says

    As an East-Coaster moved to Washington I’m always surprised and slightly confused by the random bits of Confederacy worship I see around the state. Like, Washington wasn’t a state, and no battles were fought here, but every once in a while I’ll drive past a big old Confederate battle flag.

    And then just before Christmas I finally saw the Jefferson Davis memorial/park just off I-5 north of Portland. (Driven past it many times, but this was the first time I actually saw it.) So I did the only reasonable thing; gave the park the bird and went on with my life. It’s just so absurd.

  15. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Tabby Lavalamp,

    To be sure, I wasn’t necessarily endorsing any of those people. Though Brenda Lee comes with a ready-made slogan (“Comin’ on Strong!”).

    And breakfast at Bill Lee Elementary would be interesting. “I’ve never seen anyone put oregano on their pancakes!”

  16. says

    JustaTech @19 — Born and raised in WA, and it confuses the crap outta me, too.

    I saw, I shit you not, a black guy in full-on cowboy get up sporting a Confederate flag belt buckle.

    And that was in a liberal area!

  17. says

    “As long as someone is explaining what side Washington was on in the Civil War, they might also mention that Grant was a Northern general and American president, and was not a slave-holding traitor to the country.”

    Of course, the entire state of Washington is named after a slave holding traitor to his country so maybe that’snot where those guys wanna draw the line.