Connie Bernard came under fire at an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting on Thursday, June 18. Before the meeting, she had been criticized for her comments about General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General that the school is named after. At the board meeting, she was further criticized when a speaker, Gary Chambers, pointed out that she was shopping online instead of participating in the discussion and listening.
The meeting is going viral for Gary Chambers’ comments to Bernard. A video of that portion of the meeting is trending online and is available below:
After a long debate, the school board voted unanimously on Thursday to form a committee tasked with exploring other names for Lee High School. The school was previously named Robert E. Lee High, but in 2016 the school board voted to drop “Robert E” and rename the school Lee High. At the time, Bernard voted along with four other board members to keep Lee in the name. According to The Advocate, she said she did so because it reflected the wishes of many alumni and constituents.
During the Debate, Chambers Told Bernard That Lee Was a ‘Brutal Slavemaster’ & Slammed Her for Online Shopping
The video starts with Chambers going up to the microphone and saying: “So I had intended to get up here and talk about how racist Robert E. Lee was, but I’m gonna talk about you Connie. Sitting over there shopping while we talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a picture of you shopping,” he said, showing the room a picture on his phone, “while we talking about racism and history in this country.”
Chambers said, “You don’t give a damn, and it’s clear.” He then told Bernard: “Robert E. Lee was a brutal slavemaster. Not only did he whoop the slaves, he said, ‘Lay it on ‘em hard.’ After he said [that], he said, ‘Put brine on them.’”
Bernard Recently Said That Those Offended by Lee Should ‘Learn More’ About the General
Bernard said in a June 10 interview that those who are uncomfortable with the school being named after a Confederate General should learn more about him. She said, “I would hope that they would learn a little bit more about General Lee, because General Lee inherited a large plantation and he was tasked with the job of doing something with those people who lived in bondage to that plantation, the slaves, and he freed them.”
At the meeting on Thursday, many speakers criticized Bernard for her comments. Board Vice President Tramelle Howard told her “The comments you made were extremely tone deaf to our collective community, extremely tone deaf to the students of our district, and I would be remiss if I did not stand up and stand against that. I understand where you were coming from in trying to recognize history but it’s just wrong, totally wrong. This man was a murderer, he was a racist and a bigot.”
Board member Dadrius Lanus explained to Bernard: “Under the demands of his late father’s will, which demanded he free all slaves after five years, Lee tried multiple times to resist and keep the slaves under his control, yet his name hangs over our school.”
Bernard Apologized on Friday for Her Comments & Addressed the Photo About Her Online Shopping
On Friday afternoon, Bernard issued a written statement published in The Advocate in which she apologized for her comments. She said:
My comments last week about the naming of Lee High School were insensitive, have caused pain for others, and have led people to believe I am an enemy of people of color, and I am deeply sorry. 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 stand with you, in love and respect.
She also told the outlet on Friday that the photo of her shopping on her laptop was an error and it was a popup she hadn’t closed. She said she was having issues with technology associated with switching between her personal laptop and the district laptop. She said, “I wasn’t shopping. I was actually taking notes, paying attention, reading online comments.”