As cities across the South finally start taking down Confederate monuments, the City of Lowell is set to receive a $1 million state grant to rebuild one.
The Lowell Showboat, Robert E. Lee, has been a staple of the city’s entertainment scene since its construction in 1935. Now on its fifth iteration, the Robert E. Lee has staged a number of productions over the past eight decades, including music, dancing, and minstrel shows.
The Lee was deemed unsafe by inspectors and closed in January, but the “Rebuild the Lowell Showboat” Committee has worked since then to raise funds to rebuild the vessel. The grant goes into effect with the new state budget on October 1.
Whether the new showboat will retain Lee’s name is an open question. Republican state Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell, who helped secure the funding, says he’s “Gonna leave that up to the city.”
“It’s their decision locally,” Hildenbrand said, adding that he supports exploring new naming options. “Because obviously having the name of Robert E. Lee is sometimes controversial.”
Lowell Mayor Mike DeVore did not respond to a request for comment.
Max Isaac, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Kalamazoo, doesn’t buy the local decision line.
“It’s a state issue now,” said Isaac. “If you’re receiving that funding, you’re representing the state of Michigan. That sends a message to black Michiganders. It says our government is more likely to fund a showboat named for our oppressors than fund black lives [by fixing] crumbling school systems.”
Robert E. Lee was general of the Confederacy’s armed forces from 1862 until the war’s end in 1865. While often portrayed as a reluctant Confederate – a native Virginian who loyally followed his state into war – historical scholarship shows he was a brutal slave owner and died in 1870 an unreconstructed white supremacist.
Just last month, New Orleans made national headlines by removing a statue of Lee, the city’s fourth and final Confederate landmark to be taken down since April.
“If the state continues to fund this and the name isn’t changed, they’re endorsing all of the messages and the actions that Robert E. Lee enacted upon black people,” Isaac said.
The first Lowell Showboat was built in 1932 and named after George Washington, another prominent slave owner.
By Matthew Kovac