Louisiana activist rips school board member for shopping during debate on renaming Lee High School
A video of a black Baton Rouge activist eviscerating a white school board member for online shopping during a meeting about renaming a school named after slave owner Robert E. Lee has gone viral.
Gary Chambers, who was a candidate for the Louisiana state senate last year, tore into Connie Bernard at the meeting on Thursday.
He’d taken a photograph of Connie online shopping on her laptop while others spoke.
She’d defended the school’s name despite Lee’s history as a prolific slave-owner, and told people to ‘learn more about him’.
Chambers said when he got to the microphone: ‘I had intended to get up here and talk about how racist Robert E. Lee was, but I’m gonna talk about you, Connie.
‘Sitting over there shopping while we’re talking about Robert E. Lee.
‘This is a picture of you shopping while we’re talking about racism in history in this country … Because you don’t give a damn and it’s clear.’
Bernard got up and left the room without saying anything.
Gary Chambers, who was a candidate for the Louisiana state senate last year, called on Connie Bernard to resign at a school board meeting last Thursday
Chambers tore into Bernard, saying: ‘Clearly, you don’t give a damn’
Bernard has said she wasn’t shopping while listening to the debate but taking notes and reading online comments
In his speech, Chambers fumed: ‘[You’re] sitting over there shopping while we’re talking about Robert E. Lee.
Since you don’t know history sister, let me tell you what my ancestors said.
‘Robert E Lee was a brutal slave master. Not only did he say, whoop the slaves, he said lay it on them hard.
‘He said put brine on them so it’ll burn them. You sit your arrogant self in here, sit on there shopping, while the pain and the hurt of the people of this community is on display.
‘Because you don’t give a damn. You should resign. You should walk out of here and resign and never come back. You are the example of racism in this community.
‘You are horrible. Now to the rest of the board, you have an obligation to the people of this community.’
Bernard had argued: ‘I would hope that they would learn a little bit more about General Lee, because General Lee inherited a large plantation and he was tasked with the job of doing something with those people who lived in bondage to that plantation, the slaves, and he freed them.’
In fact, Lee and his wife inherited 189 slaves in 1857 when her father died.
The school board unanimously approved that the name of the school be changed despite Bernard’s comments.
Chambers appeared on MSNBC on Monday to say he still thinks Bernard should resign
On Monday, Chambers appeared on MSNBC where he said the video showed how black voices were ignored by white people in power.
‘What you saw in that video is really a reflection of what black America is dealing with.
‘You have black folks speaking up passionately about what they feel while you have a school board member, a representative of the public, who is sitting there scrolling on the internet while people are expressing their concerns.
‘We wonder why buildings burn… when we come before you, you scroll on the internet. The state before you, Louisiana is ranked number 50 in the nation.
‘When you look at Republican policies failing us day in and day out and you look at a Republican sitting there, while we’re talking about a critical issue, and ignoring us, it’s heartbreaking and I think that’s why it has resonated with so many people,’ he said.
Board Vice President Tramelle Howard told Bernard at the meeting: ‘The comments you made were extremely tone deaf to our collective community, extremely tone deaf to the students of our district, and I would be remiss if I did not stand up and stand against that.
‘I understand where you were coming from in trying to recognize history but it’s just wrong, totally wrong. This man was a murderer, he was a racist and a bigot.’
In 2016, the school board had voted to remove ‘Robert E.’ from the school’s name while maintaining ‘Lee.’
Bernard was one of five board members who voted to maintain the name at that time, which was attributed to the strongly held feelings of her constituents.
Bernard has since changed her tune, telling WBRZ: ‘My comments last week about the naming of Lee High School were insensitive, have caused pain for others, and have led people to believe I am an enemy of people of color, and I am deeply sorry.
‘I condemn racial injustice in any form.
‘I promise to be part of the solution and to listen to the concerns of all members of our community. I stand with you, in love and respect.’
Thursday’s vote paves the way for a special committee, made up of pupils, local people and staff, to convene and select alternative names.
The school board are seeking to have a new name by July 16.
ROBERT E. LEE – INHERITED 189 SLAVES
Robert E. Lee (pictured) inherited slaves from his father-in-law in 1857
Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee fought in the Mexican-American War and spent three years as a superintendent at West Point, training some of the men who would later serve under him.
He owned slaves from the age of 22, when he inherited several families after the death of his mother Ann Lee.
In 1857, his father-in-law left him 189 slaves who worked on the estates of Arlington, White House, and Romancoke.
The will provided that the slaves should be freed after five years, but Lee tried multiple times to resist this and keep the slaves under his control.
He wrote to The New York Times on the issue. In his letter, he referred to slavery as an ‘evil’.
He went on, however: ‘I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former.
‘The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically.
‘The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
‘Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.’
Although he was ‘not a pro-slavery ideologue’ according to one historian, Lee was known to use ‘violence typical of the institution of slavery’ and some slaves tried to escape his discipline. Some were recaptured and beaten on Lee’s orders.
He did not finally free the slaves until three days before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would have done so anyway.
Lincoln had offered Lee the command of Union forces in 1861, but Lee defected instead and became a general in the Confederate army.
Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia did battle with Grant’s federal troops in some of the defining battles of the war, which ended with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Lee died in 1870.