JONESVILLE — A request by Gov. Ralph Northam to change Lee High School’s name as part of an effort to stop honoring figures of the Confederacy may be missing a bit of earlier Virginia history.
Lee County School Superintendent Brian Austin said Wednesday that the division had received a latter from Northam dated July 6, in which Northam asked school boards across the state to rename schools and school mascots that were named after Confederate leaders and sympathizers.
“When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as our own,” National Public Radio reported Northam as writing Tuesday.
Austin said that, while statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee have been a prime target of opposition to memorializing the Confederacy after its defeat in 1865, Lee High is not named after that Lee.
“We got the letter from the governor, and I did some research and found that Lee County is named after Revolutionary War Gen. Light Horse Harry Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father,” Austin said. “The high school is named after the county.”
The elder Lee commanded cavalry as a lieutenant colonel during the American Revolution, served in Congress, became Virginia’s governor in 1791, delivered the eulogy at George Washington’s funeral and later became a U.S. Army major general.
Lee County was named after him in 1793 — 68 years before his son Robert took command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia — Austin said.
Lee County’s Civil War history includes a native who became an abolitionist, Union Army hospital steward and the founder of osteopathic medicine: Andrew Taylor Still.
Austin said that, when it comes to people’s names on county schools, only two are so named. Elydale Middle School in Ewing got its name from 19th century resident Robert Ely.
Thomas Walker High School, also in the Ewing area, has as its namesake a doctor and explorer who was among the first colonists to explore and name what would become known as Cumberland Gap. Walker, with the help of native American guides, traveled though the gap almost two decades before Daniel Boone made his reputation exploring and settling what became Kentucky.
“We are not changing the high school’s name,” Austin added.