Baton Rouge School Board Member Connie Bernard was put on blast by a Black man named Gary Chambers Jr., who publishes a local magazine called The Rouge Collection. Chambers had arrived at Thursday’s meeting to speak on the decision to rename a local school, which has been known as Robert E. Lee, after the Confederate general, and then abbreviated to Lee High. Shortly before he took the podium, he posted a snapshot of Bernard in which she appears to be online shopping during the meeting:
Chambers came up and flashed the picture to the Board, and tore into Bernard, saying, “This is a picture of you shopping while we’re talking about the history of racism in this country. You don’t give a damn.”
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I told Connie Bernard to her face she needed to resign from the East Baton Rouge School board. • She was shopping while citizens were speaking about changing the name of Lee High. She was a school board member 4 years ago when they voted to keep Lee associated with the school. Then she chocked a teenager in his home in 2018, she should’ve resigned then. Then she got on TV last week telling Black folks we needed to learn more of Lee’s history. • When we don’t confront elected officials we give them permission to disrespect us and to devalue us. Connie needs to resign. I stand on that. If you think her actions are unacceptable send an email to the members of the board encouraging Connie to resign. • Speak truth to power, stand on your convictions, let NONE of them slide, and #KeepPushing. We got work to do. • I love US for real. We won the vote to change the name of Lee High, but the work continues until Connie is gone. • Email the board: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]
This was not Bernard’s first offense. The Advocate reports that the school board member said in an interview with WVLA-33, that anyone uncomfortable the school’s name is actually just unfamiliar with history.
“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,” she said.
Chambers referred to those comments while at the podium.
“Robert E Lee was a brutal slavemaster,” he told the room. “Not only would he whoop the slaves, he said, ‘Lay it on ‘em hard.’ After he said that, he said, ‘Put brine on them.'”
Others explained that Lee contested the stipulations in his father’s will that demanded the enslaved people on the plantation be set free five years after his death.
“You should walk out of here and resign and never come back, because you are the example of racism in this community,” said Chambers. “You are horrible.”
Shortly after Chambers spoke, Bernard left the room. She told the Advocate she left to go to the restroom, and not in response to Chambers. She also said she was not online shopping, she was looking at a pop up ad she was having difficulty closing.
On Friday, Bernard issued a written statement walked back her comments about Lee:
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.
The Board voted to form a special committee to come up with alternative names for Lee High, which was the name compromise reached in 2016. A lot can change in four years.