Three high school cross-country runners in Tyler, Texas, have announced that they will cover up the name of their high school—Robert E. Lee High School—on their jerseys for the upcoming cross-country season.
Their cross-country jerseys read 'Tyler Lee' for the school district (Tyler) and the school name (Robert E.Lee)—both of which are named after slave owners.
Trude Lamb, a sophomore cross-country runner, penned a letter to the Tyler school board calling for the change. Her letter went viral, and they hope it will help spur change in Tyler and other places with school names linking back to confederacy roots.
'I was not expecting it to blow up,' Lamb, 16, told Runner’s World. 'I just wrote the letter hoping the school board would listen. We just want a name that we can all agree on and be proud of.'
The action follows the protests happening all over the country sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of racial injustice. Additionally, at a recent school board meeting, members of the community—including the students—argued for the school to change its name because of its confederate association.
Lamb, and her teammates, Nick Knight, 17, a senior cross-country runner, and Hewan Knight, 16, a junior cross-country runner, stood together as their efforts received national attention.
'We’ve had people sending us picture of themselves with the name covered up,' Hewan told Runner’s World. 'They were telling us that they stand with us and agree that the name should change. This is current students from our team and other teams, alumni, and others. People want to see it change.'
But not everyone is on board with their idea—and much of that has been seen on social media.
'It can be scary,' Nick said. 'There are people out there that don’t support this and strongly against it. They maybe even threaten us. We’re happy that this has gone national because the more people are aware of what’s going on, the more pressure there is on the school board.'
The reactions mimic ongoing racial tensions happening in the country right now as it comes to terms with its longstanding racist traditions. Many of the schools in Tyler are named after confederate sympathisers and leaders—and the town itself is named after President John Tyler, who owned slaves.
This isn’t the first time members of the community have spoken up about this. It was first brought up was 50 years ago, and most recently, the community called on the school to change the name during the 2017-18 academic year—but it was never put on the agenda or voted on by the board.
'A name holds power,' Nick told Runner’s World. 'It’s ridiculous that we have to go into a confederate monument to go to school. They even just made a new building for our school, and they have Robert E. Lee engraved in stone. It’s humiliating.'
In the wake of the release of the video of Ahmaud Arbery being chased and killed while out running, all three were scared to go out running in Tyler for fear of something similar happening.
As a result, the runners won’t run alone—now they text each other and their siblings to see if they can run together, or ask someone to ride alongside on a bike to be safe.
'We’ve always had to stay on our toes,' Nick said. 'With everything that’s going on, and us taking a stand like this, it spikes our risk and we have to be more careful than before. None of us run alone anymore. We're scared to.'
The Tyler Independent School District issued a statement in response to the outcry for the change: 'We as a board are well aware of the issues surrounding the names of both of our flagship high schools. We have heard from, and anticipate hearing more, from the community on the subject. This time in between school years will hopefully be used to discuss, and find both consensus and meaningful resolution in a unified manner. Our thoughts on this matter will be limited to future board meetings where this topic is on the agenda, and of course during our conversations with community members. It is our obligation to remain poised and reasonable during this time, and we would appreciate your patience as we work, serve, and handle the business of this district while also addressing this issue.'
Practices for the 2020 fall season have started for the team. It is unclear how the school district will handle the students covering up the school’s name when the fall season starts or if there will be repercussions, but the students plans to continue their fight until the name is changed.
'There is nothing to lose if they change the name,' Hewan said. 'Are they really proud of something that’s degrading? Are they really proud of a general that was for slavery? It should be something we’re all proud of, not embarrassed and ashamed by everyday we go to school.'
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