What’s in a name? HISD officials are asking that very question of a number of Houston-area schools, including The Leader-area’s own Reagan High School in light of the recent attention given to the Confederate flag and its symbols across the nation.
The school is named after John H. Reagan, postmaster general for the Confederate States of American during the civil war. HISD Board Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said the idea of changing the name of the school had first been introduced last year during similar discussions about changing mascots and symbols at other schools. The recent shooting in Charleston, SC, and the subsequent fallout regarding symbols and names of the Confederacy and their place in modern America has renewed talks among board members about changing names.
Other schools with potential name changes would be Jackson and Johnston middle schools and Lee High School. Skillern-Jones said the move would be unprecedented. Fellow trustuess, including Superintendent Terry Grier, have voiced their support for considering name changes, as well.
“This would be the first time high schools would be renamed by a prior association to something deemed offensive to constituents,” Skillern-Jones said.
The board has a process in place for how to rename schools and suggestions for naming schools have often come organically from the community, Skillern-Jones said. This would be one of the first times the initiative would be carried out strictly through the board.
“Because of that, we’re going to be having discussions of how the process would look as there is no precedence for it.”
However, that process might take some time to complete. Currently, the HISD board does not have a formal meeting scheduled aside from a special session meeting and trustees will not an opportunity to discuss the potential name changes this month.
“There is no clear cut timeframe on what the policy would like,” Skillern-Jones said.
While both sides of the debate over the usage of Confederate names and symbols are passionate, Skillern-Jones said such discussions are difficult but having them allows people on all sides to be more open and honest.
“It will ultimately come down to what the majority of the board wants to do and the value we want to portray as a district and how we honor people who invest and support education for all children,” Skillern-Jones said. “It’s difficult to justify having children of all races congregate in a building named after someone who participated in the oppression of any race from receiving an education.”
Who is John H. Reagan?
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Reagan was born in Tennessee in 1818. He was involved in the Cherokee War and served for several years as a frontier scout before serving as a justice of the peace and captain of a militia company in Nacogdoches, TX.
After Texas became a state in 1846, Reagan went on to become the first county judge of Henderson County, according to TSHA. In 1857, he was elected congressman for the Eastern District of Texas, however he would resign from the House of Representatives when Texas later seceded from the union at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis chose Reagan to serve as Postmaster General, and he was known for shrewdness, cutting expenses for postal rates and employing a smaller, more efficient staff for mail runs. He was later entrusted with the duties of the Treasury Department for a brief period before he, Davis and others were captured on May 9, 1865. According to the TSHA, after reading northern journals and newspapers revealing the animosity toward the southern states, Reagan appealed to the people of Texas to recognize the United States’ authority, renounce slavery and secession and to avoid further disaster.
Reagan stayed active in politics, serving in Congress and also taking part in state politics. In 1897, he founded the TSHA and attended meetings of Confederate veterans throughout the state on several occasions, according to the TSHA. After retiring in 1903, he went on to complete his memoirs and later died on March 6, 1905 of pneumonia.