Two Alabama high schools get new mascots after paying $50,000 fine to remove Confederate names

New names challenged 2017 Alabama law on monuments

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 04 August 2023 23:52 BST
Robert E Lee
Robert E Lee (Getty Images)

Two Alabama public high schools have new names and mascots, after paying a $50,000 fine to the state to remove their previous, Confederate-inspired names.

This week, the Montgomery-based JAG High School unveiled its new mascot, the jaguar, while another Montogomery school, Percy Julian High School, revealed a mascot of its own, the phoenix.

In November, the Montgomery school board approved the name change, following an outcry in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide civil rights uprisings that followed.

JAG, named for a trio of civil rights figures – Judge Frank Johnson, Ralph Abernathy, and Reverend Robert Graetz – was previously named for Confederate General Robert E Lee. Percy Julian, now named for a notable local African-American chemist, was previously called Jefferson Davis, for the president of the Confederate states.

School board members argued in late 2022 that the old names were a tie to the state’s racist past.

“If we can unite under Confederate names, surely we can unite under individuals who have done something incredible for Montgomery,” board member Arica Watkins-Smith said during the vote on the name changes.

Robert E Lee (Getty Images)

Despite originally being named for Civil War figures, the schools were opened at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, and the names were chosen in part by pro-Confederate groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

“When these schools were named, they were named not because of what Dr King did, but against what Dr King did,” Ms Watkins-Smith said at the time of the vote.

(Numerous Confederate monuments were erected under similar circumstances, in what historians argue was part of a larger Jim Crow attempt to disenfranchise and segregate Black Americans from mainstream American society throughout the early and mid-1900s.)

The controversy over Confederate names continues to this day.

In 2017, Alabama passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which outlaws renaming, removing, or altering memorial buildings more than 40 years old, a law that had the effect of protecting numerous Confederate-themed monuments.

Montgomery officials paid a $50,000 fine under the law to institute the new names and mascots at the local high schools.

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