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tv   Robert E. Lee High School Race Segregation in Tyler  CSPAN  May 5, 2018 7:40pm-8:01pm EDT

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coverage. word for word gives you the most interesting daily video highlight in their own words with no commentary, the book insider'setter is an look at upcoming authors and book festivals. and the american history t.v. weekly newsletter explores our nation's past. and sign up today. >> camp ford was the largest confederate p.o.w. camp west of the mississippi river during the american civil war. the smithert with county historical society will tyler'sis piece of history with us. >> i'm a journalist. working forears daily newspapers. i'm originally from oxford p mississippi. a native southerner. and i moved to east texas in the mid-90's and moved here as a
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reporter for the dallas morning news. the dallasorking for morning news in 1987, worked years.or about 23 and in both texas and in mississippi where i first reporter, i did a lot of work looking at racial issues. history of civil rights. you know, once you pay you can see it all around you. and in tyler, certainly -- some people say tyler is the most southern of texas cities. know, the history here is also pronounced in terms civil rights struggles. some of those struggles, they're involveminent and national figures. and the movement has really unnoticed, they've been very quiet and almost hidden to some people. battlefield. a very, very early on, right after educationus board of and the civil rights movement. that interested me.
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and once there started to be a theussion last year about name of a public school in tyler, one of the two major high is called robert e. lee high school. ad there began to be discussion over why the school was named that and whether it keep thed idea to name. you know, this was sparked by the demonstrations and the death of a protester at charlottesville, virginia. and a minister here in town actually asked for the school board to consider changing the name. the school, saying that given the history and given the symbolism and given that this was a confederate figure, he was public school, a particularly in this day and age, particularly in a different now -- in a district that is now majority black,
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hispanic, why you would have a this. named for so there was a school board meeting. and i went to the board meeting, curiosity. several people stood up, who were robert e. lee graduates, school board meeting. they were saying how they did not want the school's name and they kept repeating that old thought about if you don't know your history, you'll repeat it.o and it really struck me, you know, particularly as a child of background,th my that these people might not necessarily know their own heros. they might -- their own history and they might not be tore of how this name came be. so i got curious about it. my old to use some of reporter skills to look into it. i was having discussions with with her husband chris, of the tyler loop. she was very interested in this.g into and so she encouraged me to dive in. quickly, i decided, you
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the, to call the folks at tyler smith county historical society, asking what they did. originally i thought, you know, jeez, maybe they will have an annual. but they had a treasure trove of information. came57, this decision down. the city was looking at building a new school, a new segregated school, in the white community. in the southern part of town. a debate, what do we name the school? to there was an effort made let the student body, the white student body at the school, were going toey name it. and ultimately, some choices given to the school district. and the school board, you know, white, decided to name the school robert e. lee high school. which, you know, the white community would say this is just honor our past and our heros.
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history. tyler has a rich history. camp ford. from here.up and so we're just honoring, you our confederate heritage. thisn the black community, was very much seen as, you know, and ab in their eye jester of defiance. and very quickly, after they named the school, you know, symbols ofnow, overt that defiance became really clear. the mascot that was chosen, it rebels. they referred to them also as the confederates. school symbol became the rebel flag. within a year after the school 1960, a prominent family in town bought and a gigantic rebel flag. know, known as, you the -- it was bragged on as the
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second biggest rebel flag in the world. here's a picture of it with some of the students around it. boys to20 high school carry this flag. so, again, you have these confederate symbols that are symbols ofas overt segregation. it couldn't be lost on anybody in the black community here, symbols were also very powerful and very deliberate here. you had not only that symbol but you had a group the rebel guards that was a high school history teacher within a year or two school was named. here's a picture of the rebel guard. and they're all wearing what look like confederate uniforms. and that's by design. actually authentic uniforms that were identical to those used on the artillery unit
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was assigned to support robert e. lee's army. war.g the civil and they're here posed with then-govern connolly, john connolly, as an event. but, you know, just from start finish, you had so many of thent symbols confederacy. the drill team was known as the rebelettes and the band wore the their chest ason part of their uniform. the is the drum major for robert e. lee band. you can see the stars and bars, prominentlyry displayed on his chest. you also see the same in a letterman,some wearing their letter jackets, and what's the most prominent on the letter jacket is the confederate flag. so, you know, it couldn't be
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lost on anybody, what they were say here. one of the first annuals, the annual you can see, confederatee soldier. the confederate flag. know, very, very powerful symbols, symbols of resistance. another telling detail is the -- the school newspaper was and still is known today as the southern accent. so you can see, you know, there's a confederate, you know, caricature of who is their mascot. they're the rebs, you know. another name for their sports team, the confederates. here are -- here is an article about when they are naming the guardsmen, the guys in the confederate uniforms that shoot off the cannon. they're being named here today. and here is a picture of one of
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guys in the school newspaper. so, i mean, it was just the fabric of daily life in the school. know, we're the rebels, we're the confederacy, this is theold south and this is old really white south. there's a fascinating record i of then the files historic society. and this is actually a file that prominent lawyer in town and a politician who was also involved with the school district. he actually kept in his files a chronology of the battles over integration. so you can read -- and this is from the viewpoint of the white structure, what they were as, you know, there successively more aggressive efforts, both within
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the federal government and in the courts to force desegregation. and what the story tells is, as you look at this record and a story of a, is power structure in a school was slow walking. when they could, they would absolutely say no. clear that the federal government and the courts were going to force the they would work as slowly as possible. 1970, the department of justice filed suit against the schoolndependent district. in tyler federal court. a judge who had not been on the bench that long, one county over, with the great name for any william wayne justice. the desegregation case came mid-july. in and judge -- they asked judge andice to order immediately sweeping integration. at that time, there were two
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schools, john tyler high, robert e. lee. there was one black high school, emmett scott high school, beloved in the black community. it had been there since the 1920's. that thethey realized gig was up, the school board a plan, to desegregate closing emmett scott high school, which again the looked at as a thumb in their eye. here was this school that had a graduatedory, had prominent members not only of the black community here but great who went on to success elsewhere. and they were saying, okay, if we're going to do this, going to shut this down. the justice department responded motivatedis racially broughtxpert that was in by the federal lawyers said
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it doesn't make financial sense. but in late july, the judge ordered immediate integration. ordered -- in his initial order, he said that they would emmett school high school open. and there were back room negotiations with the school board. and within a period of weeks. school isn mind, the going to start within a month. and so they needed to come up plan, pronto. and under the gun, in the back room, the federal lawyers agreed compromised with the white leadership in the school board, agreement, the news came down that emmett scott nold be closed and it would longer be used as a school. that was devastating, again, to hadack community who revered -- where this school had revered. and it was also painful that
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their kids were going to have to school named after a confederate general. october of 1972, there were four kids from the black student at lee who presented the school board with a petition, please changeyou these confederate symbols? and the name? because, again, here's a school is now integrated, where you had black kids who had to a rebel flag every time they came out of the -- here's a school where you had kids running under a rebel flag every time they came out on the football field, if they were team. football they wore the stars and bars on their band uniforms. yellsad kids doing rebel and waving rebel flags in the stands and shooting off a dressed up like confederate soldiers, every time the football team scored a point. and the members of the black community said, you know, this is really unacceptable to our kids.
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you know, we're having this sort shoved in our faces every time somebody yells give 'em hell, r.e.l.! these kids came with a petition and said, that asking black kids to honor the confederate flag as school symbol is like asking jewish kids to honor hitler and flag.zi even with that kind of appeal, delayedol board, again, action. and in november of 1972, there skirmishes between white kids and blacks. about how ite started, how serious it was, but there was enough tension that police were called in. the next day, people were scared. 500 kids didn't come to school at lee. some kids said teachers told them to stay away. and then again, at a pep rally, dixie.te kids sing some black kids raised their fist. and a black power salute.
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tension.ore and in all of that environment, then votes --rd is asked to vote in november on what they're going to do about the school name change. refused to vote on whether to change the name. member, one white board member, said black students didn't deserve the right to ask changes, because of all the fights at the school. if the black students had been a little less arrogant, demanding,ss compromise would have been accomplished. you may get a lot of these it to, but is it worth polarize and alienate your whole community? number hate each other's guts. so i mean, the rhetoric was pretty strong on all sides. and also among members of the school board. that was delayed -- next month, the state
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agency's representative sent people to tyler to tell the school board issue wasn't closed. that they were going to have to symbolsthe confederate and the name of the school. 1972, theary 14 of board voted 5-2 to get rid of rebel mascot, the confederate flags, the dixie the rebelettes drill team. only under duress. and even two of the board members at that point wouldn't do this.gree to they voted, though, at the same time unanimously to keep the school's name. the next morning, lee students came to school to see their standing out across the campus, stripping classrooms of confederate flags and rebels and any other symbols. they also made plans to take out schoolc that was in the lobby. and rebel symbols on the school
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floor. and in the local newspapers, which were, again, newspapers whiteere the voice of the community, there were articles describing white students crying. some, you know, raging and some theents appearing to accept changes but it was a very thematic time within school. since then, the discussion largely died down about what the until should be named, charlottesville. and once charlottesville happened, again a minister of heritage began to raise the issue. what was, you know, gratifying and interesting about this to people isg even people on the school board, you know, approached me and also approached the folks at the tyler loop, saying over and over
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again, we didn't know this. didn't know this about our own community. so, you know, what started as a, know, a curiosity about someone saying, well, you don't your history; you're going to repeat it. and a curiosity about what is project,ry led to this where we were presenting it to people. in some cases, for the first though they may go back generations here. this was not only in the white community, it was also in the community, because we thed official records of systematic enforcement of segregation that people in the nock community really had idea existed. several folks said to me, after stuff, i can't believe they wrote this down. but you're looking at it through lens of the 21st century. if you go back 50 years, tyler was a very, very different place. the chiefand one of pieces of evidence i point to is
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how different we have become. this discussion here right now. and it's a very civil discussion. it's still ongoing. decided what they're going to do about naming, renaming the school. but they are seriously considering it. it's been a civil discourse. strongw, they're very e-- there are very strong emotions on both sides. that, to me, tells me something this very southern city has changed. >> our cities tour staff to tyler,raveled texas, to learn about its rich history. and other about tyler stops on our tour at tour. you're watching american history t.v. all weekend, every weekend. on c-span 3. sam houston state university professor brian matthew jordan
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teaches a class about the civil war is over lynn campaign which took place in germany -- in virginia in 1864 and pitted forces under ulysses s. grant against forces under robert e. lee. the campaign ended with lee's -- thebottled up in siege would last nine months. at -- lee rendered thence rendered at apple onyx warehouse. -- appomattox courthouse. prof. jordan: we're going to pick it up today where we left off on tuesday. and consider the civil war and its eastern campaigns. in 1864. today by do that peering through eyes of


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