Black Baton Rouge Community Advocate Calls Out Board Member Shopping Online During Debate On Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

Black Baton Rouge Community Advocate Calls Out Board Member Shopping Online During Debate On Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee

A Black Baton Rouge community advocate called out a board member for shopping online during a debate on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. (Image: Adam Parkhomenko/Twitter)

A Louisiana school board member is getting national attention for a choice she made to do her online shopping during a debate on changing the name of a school named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Community advocate Gary Chambers caught East Baton Rouge School Board member Connie Bernard looking at clothes on her computer at the meeting, took a picture, and called her out. 

Chambers is publisher of The Rouge Collection, a Black-owned Baton Rouge media platform. Video footage of him confronting Bernard while he addressed the board about renaming Lee High School went viral. The video has been shared by popular figures with a large social media following such as LeBron James, activist Shaun King and actor Patton Oswalt. The hashtag #connie has been trending on Twitter.

Chambers had taken issue with comments Bernard made about Lee High School. She said people offended by the name should “learn a little bit more about” Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, for whom the school is named, and if they do so, they’ll discover that he eventually freed all his slaves, The Advocate reported.

“You should walk out of here and resign and never come back because you are the example of racism in this community. You are horrible,” Chambers said in the meeting after revealing that Bernard was shopping instead of listening to the speakers.

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Just prior to speaking, Chambers posted a picture showing Bernard on her laptop, apparently shopping online for dresses. “I had intended to get up here and talk about how racist Robert E. Lee was, but I’m gonna talk about you, Connie,” said Chambers, who was a candidate for the Louisiana State Senate in 2019.

“Sitting over there shopping while we’re talking about Robert E. Lee. This is a picture of you shopping while we’re talking about racism in history in this country,” Chambers said as he held up his phone to show the photo he had taken of Bernard. “Because you don’t give a damn and it’s clear.”

He continued, “You sit your arrogant self in here and sit on there shopping while the pain and the hurt of the people of this community is on display because you don’t give a damn and you should resign.” 

Bernard, who wanted Lee High School to keep the name of the Confederate general, got up and walked out of the meeting.

Chambers went on to address the other board members about the school renaming. He said Lee was a “brutal” slave master, cited a slave’s account of being beaten, and told the board to “stop being in 1856.” He suggested they name the school after someone on “the right side of history,” such as Louisiana’s first Black governor, P.B.S. Pinchback, CNN reported.

“We built this joint for free,” Chambers stressed, “And we’re done begging you to do what’s right.”

Bernard returned to the committee room a few minutes after Chambers’ criticism, explaining that she had gone to use the bathroom, The Daily Mail reported.

According to Bernard, what was shown on her laptop was an accident, a pop-up ad that she failed to close. 

“I wasn’t shopping,” she told The Advocate. “I was actually taking notes, paying attention, reading online comments.”

Another meeting attendee, Arthur Pania of Baton Rouge, took to Facebook to rebut Bernard.

“I personally watched her for about eight minutes, attempting to decide between a beige and red dress,” Pania wrote. “The only thing I had issue determining from my sight was if it was a short dress or nightwear.”

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Bernard later apologized for her initial comments about Gen. Lee.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to create a committee that will come up with options for a new name for the school.

Bernard, a Republican, has served on the East Baton Rouge school board since 2010 and last ran unopposed in 2018. Her term runs through 2022.