By Tom Swain
New Orleans has not decided where to put its monuments to Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee after they are removed this summer. Let me suggest that its more progressive sister city to the north, Baton Rouge, would make a fine permanent home for the Robert E. Lee statue.
New Orleans honored Lee earlier than Baton Rouge, placing his statue in the middle of a St. Charles Avenue roundabout in 1866. Although Baton Rouge waited until 1959 (a full five years after the Supreme Court’s Brown decision!) to name a high school after the general, it is making up for lost time. In 2016, the new showcase of the parish public school system – a science, technology, and engineering magnet high school costing more than $50 million – will be called Lee High School.
New Orleans, your problem is solved. Could there possibly be a better place to put Lee’s statue than in front of the brand-new school? Critics might quibble, noting that the new Lee High (the old one, on the same site, was torn down years ago) has a new mascot. No longer known as the Rebels, they now go by their more proper and distinguished title (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)—the Patriots. Critics might also quibble that “Robert E.” has been dropped from the school’s official name. However, everybody knows that the Lee High Lee is not Sheriff Harry, writer Harper, actor Bruce, or director Spike.
It’s Robert E.
In Baton Rouge, Lee’s statue would grace a place of honor, a brand new school, the pride of the parish. His name is so revered that Baton Rouge’s school system would rather cut teacher and staff positions than to borrow a New Orleans idea and sell school naming rights.
Or is it? Could changing a name that others don’t want to use and making money doing it possibly be worthwhile?
How muchMercedes-Benz Benz and Smoothie King pay to get naming rights to public buildings in New Orleans? (Would the parish school system have to share this money with Tom Benson?) News reports differ, but $10 million per year for each facility is probably in the neighborhood.
Maybe a business that is barred from advertising to teenagers would find a school name particularly attractive. How about Marlboro High School? Or Bud Lite High? Another suggestion I heard is to name it after a snack food, like Hot Fries or Cheetos High School.
Maybe we should stay local. Naming rights might be more valuable for a local business, anyway. Even if it could not afford the name of the whole school, perhaps it could buy a building. Consider the Morris Bart Gymnasium or even the Auto Yes Parking Lot. Don’t laugh—private schools already do this.
Two and a half miles from the new Lee High is the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. It began with a one-time, $125 million donation from oilman Doc Pennington. Would the school board be able to get such a good price from another philanthropist for the school currently known as Lee High? Would Exxon-Mobil or Turner Industries be interested? Who knows?
Let the bidding begin!
A school by any other name might pay some bills.