California bill would ban naming state, local sites for Confederate leaders

Robert E. Lee Elementary

For more than a century, Robert E. Lee Elementary School, bearing the name of the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, has avoided scrutiny over its name.

(Gina Ferazzi /Los Angeles Times)

A state senator introduced a bill this week that would prohibit the naming of state and local properties after Confederate leaders.

The measure would affect two elementary schools -- one in Long Beach and another in San Diego -- which were named after Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Confederate States of America.

Under the proposed law, the two schools would have to be renamed within the next two years. 

State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) introduced SB 539, known as the Frederick Douglass Liberty Act. The bill is being supported by Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-San Dimas).


“California should have no interest in enshrining the names of Confederate leaders, the secessionist movement or their ideals in our public schools, buildings, parks or other state property,” Huff said in a statement. “While it’s important to never forget the mistakes made in the past, we shouldn’t be in the business of paying tribute to those mistakes.”

A push to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public facilities was sparked by the shooting deaths of nine African-American men and women who were worshiping last month at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Photos of the shooting suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof -- who authorities believe wanted to start a race war -- show him posing with the battle flag of the Confederacy. 

Most of the scrutiny fell on the battle flag, but eventually spread to monuments, schools and other public sites that pay homage to figures of the Confederacy.


For more than a week, Long Beach Unified School District officials have faced pressure from civil rights leaders to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

The group launched an online campaign and submitted a petition to the school district. 

Prior to the public outcry in Long Beach, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) had called on the San Diego Unified School District to change the name of one of its schools named after the Confederate general.

Monday’s proposed bill would not the be the first one to target the Confederacy. 

Last year, the California Legislature passed a law that prohibits the state from selling or displaying anything bearing the image of the Confederate flag. It was later signed into law by the governor.

The ban does not apply to images of the flag found in books, digital media or state museums if displayed for educational or historical purposes. 

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