The history of and conflict over Confederate monuments and symbols is now part of the curriculum in many schools. But what do you do when the school IS one of those Confederate memorials?
The legacy of John McDonogh is well known and much discussed. He was the philanthropist who financed the construction of 30 public schools here. He was able to do so because of the fortune he made on the back of slave labor.
His name is plastered all over local schools. For now.
Then there’s Lusher, the esteemed K-12 charter school Uptown, a pride of Louisiana public education and where two of my kids graduated and one is a rising senior. Named after a virulent racist. (Who received that honor without even paying for the place!)
Robert Mills Lusher was a Confederate sympathizer and a tax collector in Louisiana during the Civil War. He was then elected state Superintendent of Education. And it was in that post that he proffered some extreme notions.
He was appalled that Northern states were squandering public education money on black children. “It is indispensable to the future honor and prosperity of Louisiana, and to the supremacy of the Caucasian race in her councils, that the benefits of liberal education should be extended to every white child within her limits,” he wrote in 1866.
And so on. He said a lot more, but you get the point.
Bowing to student and alumni pressure, this month, the Lusher administration agreed to look into a name change for a school whose very name represents academic excellence. A conundrum indeed.
It conjures for me how strange it sounds when someone with no connection whatsoever to the actual Confederate cause or to the Confederate generals on monuments crows about how the flag represents their “heritage and history” when, so often, it doesn’t.
It’s just buzzwords and dog whistles.
Well, the weird thing about the Lusher kerfuffle is that the name does actually speak to my heritage. It’s been my community for almost 20 years. It’s a name – and institution – we’ve taken great pride in.
But I don’t give a damn what they call the school from here on, as long as it keeps turning out its famously diverse, highly educated, artsy, socially and politically engaged student body.
Therein lies one of the challenges in this culture war. What do we call it now? Consider that Lee Circle still doesn’t have a new name – and he vacated the premises years ago.
There are proposals and ideas, of course. For instance, Lusher’s football field is called the Brees Family Field, named after the noted philanthropist who paid for its construction shortly after Katrina.
It does have a ring to it. Drew Brees High. Hmm.
Then again, he’s pretty vehement himself about some controversial cultural and religious matters. For instance, he has spoken against athletes – some of them his own teammates – taking a knee before sporting events. That’s not a winning point in the current BLM era.
So then, who?
And so it goes. The name game. The blame game. Two games with no real winners in sight.
Go Saints. Go Lions.
The year 2020? Just go away.