In 2020, a grassroots movement emerged in San Angelo, Texas, with the goal of changing the name of Robert E. Lee Middle School. This movement reflected larger national trends in removing Confederate statues and wrestling with the legacy of the Confederacy. Two professors of history at a regional university decided to participate in the renaming effort. This experience taught them the important role historians can and should play in debates over historical memory and commemoration, especially as allies to movements led by nonacademic community members. Moreover, it offers insights on a significant set of questions for US public historians: What is the role of the professional historian in local debates—contentious school board meetings in particular—that hinge on misconceptions of the American past? In particularly, how can academics use their expertise to combat the supremacy of Lost Cause narratives in the American South? Access to information, often locked behind paywalls, and professional credibility proved to be areas where historians can be of most use. In addition, the authors’ experience demonstrates the vital role local institutions play in the lives of their communities.
We and Bobby Lee: Public Historians and the Fight to Remove Confederate Memorials
Jason Pierce is professor and chair of the Dr. Arnoldo De León Department of History at Angelo State University. He is the author of Making the White Man’s West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West, which was published by the University Press of Colorado in 2016. He teaches courses on the American West and public history.
Michael Shane Powers is an assistant professor of history in the Dr. Arnoldo De León Department of History at Angelo State University. His manuscript project is titled, Currents of the New South: Edward A. Burke, the U.S. South, and Latin America. He teaches courses on Texas History, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Gilded Age.
Jason Pierce, Michael Powers; We and Bobby Lee: Public Historians and the Fight to Remove Confederate Memorials. The Public Historian 1 November 2023; 45 (4): 63–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2023.45.4.63
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