EDITOR’S NOTE: The Santiva Chronicle publishes opinions and letters on topics that are important to Sanibel and Captiva. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Santiva Chronicle.
submitted by Rolf Quaas, Sanibel
Confederate statues on public places and Confederate names on public buildings are being removed. An example is Jacksonville, where Republican Mayor Lenny Curry signed off on LGBT rights, marched with Black Lives Matter and had the most prominent Confederate cause monument removed.
It’s time to start thinking about renaming Lee County, isn’t it? A difficult decision for many, especially for the older white generation growing up in the South. Confederate symbols are familiar and recall fond memories associated with childhood, their parents, their friends and the town where they grew up. It doesn’t help if people like yours truly with his typical bluntness tells them they have racist views. But I don’t apologize. Liking Confederate symbols is racist because it tramples the feelings and day-to-day experiences of African-Americans, Latino/Latina-Americans and many, many White-Americans. We, the guys and girls who don’t adore Confederates, are confronted on a daily basis with the name “Lee.” The DMV, the property tax office, the hospital and on and on.
Let me make a comment about this hyphen business. If we categorize people with hyphens, which I absolutely hate, I will from now on call us white folks White-Americans. One has to be consistent and as a few people pointed out to me one should separate the White-American category into the Born-here-Americans and the Not-born-here-Americans. I belong to the latter category, which presumably can be told “if you disagree with us we presume you don’t like it here [followed by two American flags] then go back to where you came from”. You get the point, aren’t you? “Renaming Lee County” is a hot button issue here on our tranquil and beautiful island.
Renaming Lee County is long overdue and should not be seen as a contentious red vs. blue political issue. Some politicians will make it “political”, but that’s probably a primary election strategy. It’s all about how we treat our fellow citizens. It must be part of a civilized discussion NOW. Do we want to be decent and respectful of each other? Do we want to leave America’s history of slavery, the “original sin”, behind us and look into the future?
I am against “cleansing” all historical monuments and names. Dictatorships do this, the Stalinists, the Nazis, the Taliban. Where would this end? Do we want to demolish the Vatican, flatten Roman ruins, blow up the Egyptian pyramids, burn down Catholic churches, tear down mosques, rename Washington D.C.? All of those are tainted by either slavery or mass murder or torture or all of the aforementioned. Tearing down or renaming all this is ludicrous! Most leading figures in the South were slave owners at the time of the Revolutionary wars. We cherish monuments, cities, streets named after Washington, Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Yes, it was an ugly and inhuman phase of our history and more action is required to compensate African Americans for this grievous harm. But tear all of this down? NO!
Robert E.Lee however is a different case. Even after 1865, the end of the American Civil War, he never accepted abolishing slavery, that is evident from historical documents. Equally important, Robert E.Lee was and would still be considered today, a felon. Under Art. 94. (§ 894.) 2004 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, mutiny and sedition are offenses which are punishable by death. Robert E.Lee’s and the Confederate leadership’s mutiny and sedition resulted in the death of more than 700,000 human lives out of a population of 35.7 million. So, here you have it: MUTINY AND SEDITION! How can we honor such a name? The Confederate story is part of our history but should be explained in museums, like the National Museum of American History in Washington or the Southwest Florida Historical Society on McGregor. But we should not idolize this painful time by naming public places and placing statues, please!
In 1865 our nation (as a Not-born-here-White-American it has been my nation for the past 40+ years), exhausted by war, opted for a “pragmatic” solution of reconciliation. During the Reconstruction era (1863-1877) civil rights for African-Americans were established and Confederate officers were not welcome to hold state and federal elected offices. In retrospect Reconstruction failed spectacularly when the civil rights progress was steadily undermined starting in the 1880s. The so-called Jim Crow laws institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans living in the South. So all of this suffering during the civil war was largely in vain. The nation was kept together but at what cost! The Supreme Court did not intervene and at times aided and abetted gross violations of our constitution until the 1960s.
Lee County was created on May 13, 1887 from Monroe County, 17 years after Robert E.Lee’s death. Lee had no personal connection to our area and never visited it. Francis Asbury Hendry (1833-1917), aka “Captain” F.A.Hendry, a former Confederate officer, was one of the key figures in establishing the county, which they named after their idol, Robert E.Lee. Ten years after the Reconstruction era had ended they were able to do what would not have been permitted earlier. Naming the county in honor of Robert E. Lee was clearly an act of defiance by unreconstructed racists.
As one of the numerous neighbors in favor of “Rename Lee County” pointed out in our Nextdoor discussions, we as White-Americans have to carry the ball now, we have to do the heavy lifting, it’s our moral obligation. Being complacent now, is being guilty. If you want to support renaming Lee County into Calusa County you can either sign on to the change.org petition or write an email to our City Council or – even better – do both. If you don’t like the Calusa name but are in favor of changing the name of our county, email the City Council anyway.