Activists deliver petition to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary in Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Activists with the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable delivered a petition to the Long Beach Unified School District Monday demanding the renaming of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, which was named after the principal commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

"Drop that name! Put on whatever name they want but get that name off," said Pedro Baez, political director of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable.

The school and its controversial name is a fresh discovery for activists even though the school opened as Robert E. Lee Elementary in 1898. As of Monday, 57 people had signed an online petition demanding the name change, Baez said.

Their campaign is fueled by the Charleston church shooting on June 17. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, opened fire during a prayer meeting inside Emanuel AME church, killing nine people.

In a manifesto, Roof professed his allegiance to the Confederate battle flag. To many, both the flag and Lee are bitter reminders of slavery, but the name may mean little to the students.

School employees say there's not a single picture or plaque in any classroom that refers to Lee, and elementary students are not taught about the Civil War. In all California schools, that's a subject taken up in the eighth grade.

Opinions about the school vary widely in the diverse community of Long Beach.

"I don't think just because you have a Confederate flag or a school is named after Robert E. Lee it means you're a racist," David Owen said.

Miguel Rosario says there are bigger battles to fight.

"If the school is doing justice and is educating our kids the right way, it doesn't matter the name," Rosario said.

As the petition was delivered to the school board offices Monday, a spokesman for the district says the issue about Robert E. Lee Elementary has never been raised before. A committee may be appointed at its next meeting to study the matter. Meantime, the neighborhood school finds itself in the middle of political crossfire.
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