Trude Lamb, an incoming high school sophomore, has won countless medals for her school’s cross country team. But with each victory and celebratory picture, she is painfully reminded of the name that runs across her chest – Robert E. Lee.
Now, she’s saying no more and is demanding change.
In a recent letter to the school board, Lamb wrote that she would no longer wear the school’s jersey, which is emblazoned with “Tyler Lee.” Tyler stands for the Tyler Independent School District located in the city of Tyler, Texas, and Lee stands for the school’s name, Robert E. Lee High School.
Sure, Tyler Lee isn’t exactly Lee’s full name, but it’s “still his name,” Lamb said.
“It’s just a shorter version of Robert E. Lee. It still reminds me of who he was,” the 16-year-old told CNN.
Lamb added that Lee is glorified even more in the school’s alma mater, which in part says, “Robert E. Lee we raise our voice in praise of your name. May honor and glory e’er guide you to fame.”
“What has he done for him to be praised like that?” Lamb said of Lee, a Confederate general who owned slaves.
Community members have tried to push the school board to change the name of the high school before in 2018. But after no one seconded the motion at the school board meeting, it failed to go anywhere, according to local media reports.
Now with Lamb’s letter and other students pledging not to wear Lee’s name, the movement to change the school’s name has been brought to the forefront once again.
A petition calling for the renaming of the school has over 10,000 signatures and some have also called for the name of another school in the district – John Tyler High School – to be changed. John Tyler, the tenth US President, worked to create the Southern Confederacy, according to the White House.
On Monday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside the school district’s administration office as the school board held a meeting inside.
The issue of changing the schools’ names was not on the agenda, but Lamb, who immigrated from Ghana in 2014, signed up to read her letter at the meeting.
“I am from Ghana, Africa where slavery first began,” Lamb’s letter reads. “I have stood in the dungeons of the slave castle and seen the three foot urine and feces stains on the walls where my brothers and sisters were kept. I’ve seen the tiny hole at the top of the ceiling where they would throw food in to the captured souls.”
“I love and enjoy the sports I play at (Robert E. Lee),” Lamb wrote, but she added that she “can’t be playing sports, supporting, and going to a school that was named after a person who was against my people right here in the United States. (Lee) owned slaves and didn’t believe people like me were 100% human.”
Lamb asked that the school board not change the name to “Tyler LEE” but after “someone who we can all be proud of.”
Wade Washmon, board president of the Tyler Independent School District, said in a statement Monday that he hopes the summer will be a time when the board discusses this matter further. But Lamb said the board has not responded to her letter.
“We as a board are well aware of the issues surrounding the names of both of our flagship high schools. We have heard from, and anticipate hearing more, from the community on the subject. This time in between school years will hopefully be used to discuss, and find both consensus and meaningful resolution in a unified manner,” Washmon said.
For Laura Owens, Lamb’s adopted mother, this statement is not enough. If the school’s name isn’t changed before the school year begins, Owens said she and other parents are exploring filing a lawsuit for violation of civil rights.
And until the name is changed, Lamb and the other top three runners on her team have all pledged not to wear Lee’s name on their jerseys.
Read Lamb’s letter in full:
I am one of you(r) true African and 1st generation African American students at REL. I am from Ghana, Africa where slavery first began. I came to America in 2014. I have stood in the dungeons of the slave castle and seen the three foot urine and feces stains on the walls where my brothers and sisters were kept. I’ve seen the tiny hole at the top of the ceiling where they would throw food in to the captured souls. I’ve walked through the “Gate of No Return” where over 12 million of my brothers and sisters were kidnapped never to return back to their home. I have worked the very fields and fetched water for my family from the very places my people were kidnapped.
I love and enjoy the sports I play at REL. I can’t be playing sports, supporting, and going to a school that was named after a person who was against my people right here in the United States. He owned slaves and didn’t believe people like me were 100% human let alone ever go to my very high school. I cannot bear and will no longer wear his name on my race jersey. I’m currently the fastest girl on your varsity cross country team. I held that place my 9th grade year and plan to do the same my 10th grade year.
I don’t see a future of remembering a person who did nothing for our country and who didn’t care for me or my people. He continues to bring our city down.
As one of your black students, I’m respectfully asking you to take up the REL name change issue. Please vote to change the name, not to “Tyler LEE” but after someone who we can all be proud of. Using the excuse that it would be too expensive, is not okay. This town was built on the backs of my enslaved brothers and sisters. Do it in their memory and honor the future of their ancestors that are at REL.
I hope you understand where I am coming from.
Gertrude “Trude” A. Lamb