Phillip Baber spoke on March 23, 2021 at the rally to rename Robert E. Lee High School here in Jacksonville:
Thanks to all the incredible leaders in this city who refuse to live under the shadow of white supremacy…. No Black child should be compelled to attend a public institution that celebrates the legacy of a man who killed thousands of Americans to ensure that 4 million enslaved people of African heritage would never taste freedom.
No descendant of an enslaved American—in order to receive a publicly-funded high-school education—should have to suffer the indignity of walking through these halls or sitting in these classrooms, forced to hear over and over, day after day, reverence paid to the name of the man who waged a war to ensure that their ancestors would continue to be bought, sold, traded, and bred like cattle.
No child—Black, white or of any race—should ever have to say, “I go to a public school named after Robert E. Lee.”
Within the American consciousness there is no other name more closely associated with the Confederacy than Robert E. Lee. That is a fact. It is also a fact that the Confederacy existed to protect the institution of slavery. Confederate soldiers under the command of General in Chief Robert E. Lee killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of Americans to defend the abominable idea that people of African descent weren’t really people, but rather things to be owned. The Confederacy stood for the literal dehumanization of an entire race of people. And Robert E. Lee stood for the Confederacy.
I am here today because my faith compels me to dismantle white supremacy. My faith leads me to be here this afternoon in solidarity with these students—children who are demanding an astoundingly simple thing: that their public school no longer bear the name of the man who was responsible for killing more people in the defense of slavery than any other American in history.
Robert E. Lee killed Americans to protect the chains of an enslaved people. And if we, within this nation, wish to start a real process of healing and reconciliation among the descendants of both enslavers and the enslaved, we must stop venerating those who literally divided our country through a civil war rather than recognize that Black people are human beings.
That is what our children and young people are asking for. Let us have the wisdom to listen to them.