Fulmore MS embraces Lively change

Decision to rename school might herald name changes to other schools named after Confederates


Elisha Scott

Fulmore teachers and parents urged the Board of Trustees to rename the school after veteran teacher and volunteer Sarah Lively at the Nov. 26 Trustees meeting.

Jazzabelle Davishines, staff reporter

The AISD Board of Trustees voted on Dec. 17 to rename the Fulmore Middle School campus due to the Confederate ties of its namesake. The district has been going through the process of renaming several campuses named after historical figures connected to the Confederacy. Several other campuses, including Lanier and Reagan high school are slated to be renamed soon.

Fulmore Middle School was named for Zachary Taylor Fulmore, a lawyer and judge from North Carolina. Fulmore was a judge in Travis County for many years, as well as a trustee for the Texas School for the Blind. Fulmore, however, was also a private in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

“I’m glad that the district is recognizing that we need to change things.

— Former Fulmore student and McCallum senior Persephone Harris

The naming of buildings and organizations in honor of historical figures who were in support of the Confederacy or held otherwise racist beliefs and opinions has been a source debate for several years. Fulmore was in the Confederate Army at a very young age, but later did a great deal of good for his community. Some say that history should not be erased; others argue that the preservation of history is possible without honoring and condoning racist actions.

“I think preserving history is important in facilities that are meant for it, like museums or exhibitions,” said former Fulmore student and current McCallum senior Ardis Warrenfells. “But if the names of figures are proudly displayed in the names of our schools, it should be renamed so we can promote better people.”

Many students and other members of the community are positive about this change, viewing it as a step forward.

“I’m glad that the district is recognizing that we need to change things,” said Persephone Harris, another Fulmore graduate and McCallum senior. “I think this will help represent our district as a progressive environment.”

The metal letterings outside of the front entrance of Fulmore Middle School are just one of the pieces of this school that will change with its namesake. Photo by Jazzabelle Davishines.

The public recognition of historical figures who supported the Confederacy is a controversial topic, largely due to people’s strong opinions regarding what it represents in the present day.

“I don’t believe in honoring a legacy of racism, so I support the name change,” said Cindy St. John, an English teacher at Fulmore. “I realize this is controversial because name changes are expensive and we already have inequities in our schools that need to be financially addressed, but those deficits need to be amended at the state level, and that’s another issue.”

Though on the surface this may appear to be a black-and-white issue, St. John would disagree with that assessment. Despite her support for the change, she acknowledges that the decision is a complicated one.

“Honestly, the decision to change the name of a school is complex,” St. John said. “I would have liked to have had a public conversation about Zachary Taylor Fulmore’s moral legacy, with emphasis on listening to our communities of color and respecting their voices.”

There are complications and concerns to be addressed, as there are with any significant change. “As an English teacher, I believe in the power of words and the power of naming things,” St. John said. “Changing the name of our school does not erase its history; Fulmore will always be Fulmore and the name change marks a moment in its history, one of which I think we can be proud.”

St. John is optimistic about how the change will affect the campus community.

“More than anything,” St. John said, “I hope that these name changes are just the beginning and that we can have meaningful conversations about our shared histories, values and ideas about equity.”

I would have liked to have had a public conversation about Zachary Taylor Fulmore’s moral legacy, with emphasis on listening to our communities of color and respecting their voices.

— Fulmore language arts teacher Cindy St. John

The renaming of Fulmore was obviously a very difficult decision. Task forces at Reagan and Lanier asked that the district delete the first name of the namesakes and leave the last names intact. The district has rejected that solution.

In the case of Fulmore, the board finally came to a decision on Dec. 17. At the urging of the Fulmore community, they approved a change to rename the school after one of its former teachers, Sarah Lively. Lively was a staff member at the school for 25 years. Additionally, she continued to volunteer for the school for another 27 years after her teaching career came to a close. Her dedication to the school, long after her time working there, earned her a place in the school’s memory forever.

UPDATE: The Board of Trustees voted Monday to change the name of John H. Reagan Early College High School to Northeast Early College High School. John H. Reagan was the postmaster general of the Confederate States of America. A committee of community members had proposed last fall just to drop the “John H.” from the name, but that proposal was rejected prompting Monday’s vote.

KUT quoted LaTisha Anderson, the Trustee who represents the area that contains the schools, as supporting the new school name without a namesake.

“I wanted to celebrate the community,” she said. “I don’t want this to be about a name on the building. I’m interested in what’s happening in the building.”