“We, the members present, are calling for the immediate resignation of our colleague Connie Bernard,” school board vice president Tramelle Howard told reporters on Monday. “Over 400 years of pain and grief were exhibited Thursday night, and our colleague decided to ignore the cry of our community and totally misrepresent us as a school board.”
The board cannot remove a seated member, he said.
But days before the hearing, board member Connie Bernard said she wanted to keep the name to honor the school’s legacy. She also encouraged people to dig deeper into Lee’s story, saying she released enslaved people on her plantation, according to CNN affiliate WVLA / WGMB.
In a video that has since gone viral, activist Gary Chambers Jr. addressed Bernard directly in the audience for his comments and for a photo of what appeared to be Bernard shopping online while the resolution was being discussed.
“My comments last week about the appointment of Lee High School were callous, they have caused pain to others and led people to believe that I am an enemy of people of color, and I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I condemn racial injustice in any form. I promise to be part of the solution and to listen to the concerns of all members of our community. I am with you, in love and respect.”
‘A dog whistle message’
Chambers called Bernard an example of community racism and also called for his resignation during the hearing.
He told CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday night that commemorating Confederate figures has a severe impact.
“You can send a dog whistle message to blacks that no matter how far you’ve come, we will never recognize you equally,” Chambers said.
“We need to know that there were people who defended us centuries ago,” he said. “The truth is that the people who were elected in the 19th century are the impetus for Jim Crow laws because they saw the power of black people. They saw the power of black unity and progress, so they immediately put it into practice laws that prevented that progress for 150 years, and then began honoring those people by naming buildings. “
Chambers accuses Bernard of buying online during hearing
When Chambers stepped in to address the school board on Thursday, he brought in a photo of what he saw Bernard do during the hearing.
“I was planning to go up here and talk about how racist Robert E Lee was, but I’m going to talk about you, Connie,” Chambers said. “Sitting there shopping while talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a photo of you shopping while talking about racism in the history of this country.”
“I wasn’t buying,” he told the newspaper. “I was actually taking notes, paying attention, reading comments online.”
The Robert E. Lee Story
Bernard encouraged people to learn more about Lee to defend keeping the school as his namesake, but Chambers said Lee was a “brutal” slave master, citing a slave’s account of being beaten and he told the board to “stop being so in 1856.”
The father-in-law’s will stipulates that enslaved people be released within five years, but Lee asked the state courts to extend their control over them, the museum says. State courts denied his requests, and Lee officially released the enslaved people on December 29, 1862, just days before the Emancipation Proclamation.
“I tell you, Mrs. Bernard, that Robert E. Lee is not a man to be honored by our students, especially students of color!” he wrote. “Forcing our students to attend a school with that name is not only degrading, it is culturally insensitive and a violation of our students’ rights!”
CNN’s Amanda Jackson and Nicole Williams contributed to this report.