Rename Lee County

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.

Comments (6)

  1. To get to the core of the problem of systemic racism the best action is very clear and that is to destroy and abolish the very organization at the heart of racism in our country. From its inception to present day the democrat party has been the root of this evil. The party of Jackson who abused the native americans, on to the southern plantation owners to present day democrats who abuse minorities while caring only about power, it is time to abolish and demolish all things democrat party. In 1860 all slaves were held by members of the DNC and it behooves the DNC to pay all reparations due. This is fact and historical truth, period, pure and simple. On Sanibel, the democrat party of the island recognized this shameful history by changing their name to the progressive party.

  2. I am Cherokee aka Native American. Should we change all the Waterways, Mountains, Counties with Native American names. They were not enslaved, they were murdered!
    It’s history, we do not have the right to change history when ALL of US never experienced history. Stop trying to stir the pot and pit us all against each other. It’s HISTORY that means what’s done is done. I am not going to apologize for who I am to anyone. Neither should you!

  3. Rudi Hargesheimer

    Somewhat in jest. Change the name to Fee County. It will cost less to change all the signage. Actually, I think Calusa is a great choice and that Lee was, indeed, not a good choice way back when.

  4. Do not try to erase history. Leave the name alone and move on!

    • From the history books: General Elisha Hunt Rhodes, who fought in the civil war. “I remember standing one day looking at a monument in Athens, Ga., when a young collegian said to me, ‘ I suppose you object to this monument being here.’ ‘ Oh, no,’ I said, ‘ if you people want to perpetuate your shame, I care little about it. You are simply telling the story to your children of how you tried to pull down the old flag and how you failed.’ Another day I stood by the monument in Winchester, Va., and I read upon it an inscription which told how men had died for liberty, had died for constitution in that country. An old gentleman asked me what I thought of it. ‘ Oh,’ I said, ‘ the day will come when you will put a ladder up against that monument, and you will hire a colored man who once wore the shackles to climb that ladder and efface every word of that inscription, for it is false. There is no truth in it.’ Those men were brave men, and I am willing to pay tribute to their bravery ; but they did not die for liberty, they did not die for their constitution, they did not die for their country.”

  5. Lee County was established on May 12, 1887. It would be a shame to change the name. I like the name Lee. That is my grandson’s name. There are way more serious issues to contend with. Leave it be.

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