Robert E. Lee? OK, but what about James Bowie?
Dallas ISD is one of the latest school districts to go through the controversial process of erasing the names of slavery defenders from its schools. A difficult part that process is deciding where to stop. The old South, including Texas, is full of memorials to racism and a lost cause erected years after the Civil War by people who refused to believe that all people, in fact, were created equal.
The issue of removing Confederate statues and renaming schools resurfaced following the recent white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va.
For now, according to The Dallas Morning News, DISD is going to consider renaming only schools that bear the names of Confederate generals. That means elementary schools that now honor the memories of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson and William L. Cabell may soon be relabeled.
Other schools carrying the names of individuals who had slaves or other connections to the Confederacy, such as Thomas Jefferson High School and John H. Reagan Elementary School, will be keeping their names, at least for now. These include James Bowie Elementary School.
James Bowie, of course, has long been considered a Texas “hero” because of his death at the Alamo. Lesser known, though, is the fact that long before his arrival in San Antonio, he was a slave-trader. He and his brother, Rezin, bought slaves from the pirate Jean Laffite on Galveston Island and resold them in Louisiana. According to the Handbook of Texas, they made $65,000 – more than $1 million in today’s dollars — at their despicable business before retiring and investing their profits in land speculation.
Who committed the greater sin? Robert E. Lee or James Bowie? Were they equally guilty of perpetuating an evil practice, or was Bowie somehow “exonerated” by his death at the Alamo?
I have two children, now grown, who graduated from James Bowie High School in Austin ISD, and I doubt that more than a handful of parents during their time there knew about Bowie’s unsavory past.
“Are there names of other people that somebody might want to change in the future?” DISD Board President Dan Micciche asked.
There may be.