Confederate connection could mean name change for Lanier MS

January 12, 2016

By Charlotte Aguilar

A reconstituted Houston ISD board of trustees will consider Thursday whether to approve the renaming of eight schools — including Sidney Lanier Middle School — whose namesakes had ties to the Confederacy.

Also identified in the resolution brought forward by Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, are Grady, Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools, and Davis, Reagan and Lee high schools.

An HISD media release said the renaming is being considered “in order to represent the values and diversity of the school district, in accordance with the district’s non-discrimination policies.”

The meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the board auditorium of the Hattie Mae White Education Center, 4400 W. 18th St., and will be livestreamed at Newly elected and re-elected trustees — including Lanier’s new representative, Jolanda Jones — will be sworn-in at the start of the meeting.

Lanier Principal Felicia Adams sent out a letter to school families last Friday alerting them to the potential change, which she and the HISD message said was aimed at campuses named after “prominent Confederate leaders.”

Longtime Lanier speech and debate coach Jim Henley – who said he is a “liberal” who has supported the removal of names of Confederate politicans and generals from other facilities — disputed Lanier’s leadership and opposes the name change.

“He was so much more than a soldier,” Henley wrote in a Facebook post. “Sidney Lanier was a renaissance man. He was a musician, lawyer, educator, and a renowned poet. His poetry expressed his desire to see reconciliation between the North and the South after the Civil War.”

Henley was joined by Edith Moore, an honored African-American teacher who recently retired from Lanier after 34 years in the classroom there.

“I think that if we dig back in the pasts of everyone…there will always be skeletons to turn over,” Moore wrote. “We would probably have to change every dedicated structure in the world based on what we discover.”

She suggested the board “focus on the positive aspects of Sidney Lanier’s life and not on the negatives of the past.”

Lanier has more than a dozen schools named for him throughout the south, as well as a county and lake in his native Georgia.

The move follows the change of four HISD school mascots deemed offensive to native Americans in April 2014, and board approval last October of a revised policy on school names. If the resolution is approved Thursday, each campus would be required to form a school-naming committee of stakeholders including staff, students, parents and members of the community. Recommendations would be due to the board in May for final approval.

“In a district as large and diverse as HISD, it is imperative that our schools respectfully represent our students and school communities, while also honoring our history and traditions,” Principal Adams wrote. “If the measure is approved, we plan to work closely with the district to ensure our school community has a voice in the decision making process and recommends a name that truly represents the mission, spirit, culture, and success of our campus.”

Lanier is a Vanguard gifted-and-talented campus and offers an International Baccalaureate program. It’s especially known for its music and public speaking programs.

Sidney Lanier was anything but a 'Confederate leader,' say those opposed to changing the name of the 90-year-old school. (Graphic by Charlotte Aguilar)

Sidney Lanier was anything but a ‘Confederate leader,’ say those opposed to changing the name of the 90-year-old school. (Graphic by Charlotte Aguilar)