PORT ALLEN, La. (BRPROUD) – Former Port Allen faculty and students started a petition to change the name of Port Allen High School following the vote to remove a Confederate statue of the same name.
The statue of Port Allen’s namesake and former Confederate Governor, Henry Watkins Allen, reignited an old debate to rename the high school. Proponents of the petition say the name itself represents the same painful history as Allen’s statue: slavery and oppression. Shelton Berry, the man who started the city’s conversation about Confederate symbolism, says the school’s history plays a role in the petition.
” Port Allen High was historically a school that African-Americans weren’t allowed to attend,” Berry says.
Black students were sent to Cohn High School until it was closed. Berry says the name of the school was a reminder to the kids who integrated and the ones who attend now, that they weren’t always equal.
The petition suggests naming the school after Edward J. Searcy, a local Civil Rights activist and former Port Allen High School teacher. His influence lasted well beyond his death in 2010. Those in favor, say his name on the building is more appropriate than a former confederate governor. The petition has 530 signatures.
Naysayers are worried a name change will erase history or create a divide between residents. Others are worried it might lead to a slippery slope of changes, like the name of the city as a whole. Berry says that’s a fight for another generation and another time. Right now he’s just focused on the big issue at hand and that’s removing the statue from in front of the West Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse.
“All will be able to voice their opinions but at the end of the day, I believe true justice and equality will reign.”