UPDATE: The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, announced his support for the campaign to rename Long Beach's Robert E. Lee Elementary School on Tuesday.
Sharpton called the name offensive—considering the pivotal role Lee, for whom the school was named in 1898, played in the fight to uphold slavery—and called on Long Beach school officials to immediately remove the name, according to Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Policy Roundtable, who also supports the campaign.
"The Reverend Sharpton not only endorsed the Lee campaign but also made it clear that direct action by civil rights leaders locally and nationally is a real option to prod Long Beach school officials to scrap the Lee name," Hutchinson said.
The campaign is endorsed by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, Southern Christian Leadership Conference-West, Project Islamic Hope National Action Network-West, CORE California, Womens Leadership Project Voice of the People, National Council of Negro Women-West, Black Employees for Justice.
PREVIOUSLY: Local Activists Deliver Petition Urging Long Beach Unified to Rename Robert E. Lee Elementary
7/6/15 at 4:59AM| A petition urging the Long Beach Unified School District to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, named in 1898 for the Confederate army's commanding general during the Civil War, was delivered at district headquarters Monday afternoon by civil rights activists.
"I feel that anything named after him in what is considered union territory—which now all 50 states are—is an affront to people who fought for the preservation of the union and wanted to abolish slavery," Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable Political Affair Director Pedro Baez said.
Baez said the petition began in response to last month’s Charleston church shooting during which nine black people were fatally shot by a young white man in South Carolina.
"When Charleston came up and we saw that the Confederate flag was what Dylan Roofe [the alleged shooter] had utilized and used as justification for his actions, we felt it was time to take a stand," Baez said.
According to Baez, activists began by urging retailers to stop selling Confederate flags and products. When activists discovered there was a school named after Robert E. Lee, they began the campaign to rename it.
"Charleston basically told us that there are people out there [who] used the Confederate flag as a means to go out and create havoc and terrorism against minorities, and we feel that we need to change the name of this school before somebody here decides to become a copycat," he said.
The online petition, accessible through Change.org, has 57 signatures so far, including a mix of locals and those out of state.
Baez said he plans to attend the next LBUSD board meeting, scheduled for July 20, where the issue is scheduled to come up.
According to LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou, the school board tends to use a committee process to vet issues and gather community feedback so that recommendations can be made to the board.
"The board has taken the recommendation of a school naming committee in the past," said Eftychiou. “Nobody has ruled out a name change here, but on the other hand, our board simply hasn't had the opportunity to discuss the issue and hear constituents at a public meeting."
Photos by Stephanie Rivera.