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.

7 thoughts on “What’$ in a name?

  1. Cast my vote for Bud Light High School with R. E. Lee’s statue out front 🙂

    Great points, Mr. Swain.


  2. I go to Lee High school, and people here don’t seem to be offended by the origin of the school’s name. I do think it is a bit hypocritical to call us the patriots. Though it does not seem to be much of an Issue around campus.


  3. Mr. Winham, Lee was abstemious and kept a bottle of fine French brandy given him by French representative throughout the war—unopened. Not a prig, but not a drinker. Would you consider Courvoisier V.S.O.P? Parallelism, you know: both name and alcohol of similar merit?


  4. It is clear to me we are undergoing a Re-Reconstruction. Andrew Jackson, one of the most influential presidents of the country, is kicked off the currency and replaced by Harriett Tubman, whose contributions in no way approach his and were largely elaborated to sell to textbook publishers. A symbol for our time

    For we are in the midst of a Re-Reconstruction. The first one did not teach us enough.

    The illiberal cognescenti on the coasts have always known Southerners were hicks and unworthy even to participate in our elections (except, of course, for those black southerners who vote a straight ticket and can be “handled”). In the first Reconstruction they raped the South’s land and economic institutions and then went home. Their banks did not want to fool with country folks. This time, they are going to erase the region’s records from the face of the earth. Robert Edward Lee, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson.—-they will rewrite history so it suits current illiberal and thought-stiffling, historically and generally ignorant Political Correctness. In a confederacy of dunces, ’tis folly to be wise. And we wonder why Donald Trump is a hit? If Harriett Tubman can replace one of the most influential presidents in history on our bills and in our history books, then The Donald is right at home.

    The statue of Lee in New Orleans shows how determined N.O. is to become a deracinated city. That circle and that statue have acquired associations of home place to generations of New Orleanians. It was part of their grandparents’ city, just as Lee’s leadership during and after the Civil War is part of the South’s history. The nobility and grace in defeat for which he stood inspired a people. He was no whiner or victim: he immediately went to work educating leaders for the war-torn South.

    I suggest the city install on Lee Circle a contemporary ediface that records the number of murders that take place in its limits weekly, monthly, yearly.

    And remember how a clever entrepreneur applied a lithographed photograph of “Beast” (aka “Spoons”) Butler to the inside bottom of chamber pots after the anti-Semite’s infamous Order #28? Would the hungry and pandering face of Mayor Landrieu fit in the bottom of a chamber pot?

    I miss Ignatius Reilly.


  5. Pining for the good old days of Jackson’s genocide, Lee’s treason, and Ignatius Reilly–for whatever reason– is, fortunately just a sentimental journey through some imaginary past of the privileged. Enjoy yourself! Take lots of pics!


    1. Mr. Bankston, I regret you were unable to grasp my point. Or perhaps you chose condescension as a rhetorical tool instead of addressing substance. Condescension is always unattractive and generally betrays close-mindedness or ignorance. To reduce the life and contributions of Robert Edward Lee or Andrew Jackson to “treason” and “genocide” is sophistical and false. Reductionism is the mind-set of the ideologue, of course, the person who sees all life in terms of a narrow set of purely political issues. But it is intellectually dishonest.

      Your answer completely misconstrues my remarks, is meant to be “cute,” I suspect, geared to draw admiring smiles from a political claque. But it is just arrogant and ignorant.

      Mine was no “imaginary journey through the past of the privileged.” That remark reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s declaring her husband’s presidency left the two of them “broke.” Or Al Sharpton’s lamenting his lack of civil rights, having enriched himself swilling from public troughs, betraying the trust of those who elected him.

      Whatever “privilege” I personally have, Mr. Bankston, is the result of a life of study and intellectual humility. That is a privilege available to all who are willing to put in the sustained work, brave enough to face truth even when it contradicts his prejudice, and humble enough to recognize his own limitations. But—I repeat myself, I know—to dismiss anyone’s position by claiming the author is “privileged” is intellectually dishonest, an argumentum ad hominem.


  6. This thread does provide an opportunity to quote Jonathan Swift and inspiration to read John Kennedy Toole’s absolute masterpiece for the twentieth or so time (I’ve lost count) and maybe The Neon Bible, as well:

    “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

    Liked by 1 person

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