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Time to rename Lee County
June 17, 2020

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To the editor:

Robert E. Lee fought to preserve human trafficking. It is time to rename Robert E. Lee County. There is a difference between remembering the past and learning from mistakes vs. honoring those who have done wrong.

My family on my mother's side survived World War II and even helped the Italian resistance. Mussolini foolishly sent every able-bodied man out the country to fight the war and left Italy open to Nazi invasion. He enabled and fought on the side of Axis, allowing the Jewish people and others to be murdered. In the end we can all agree he was an idiot and murderer who allowed human atrocities. That is why we remember our history, but we do not hang a portrait of Mussolini on the wall.

Our County Commission Chambers at the old Courthouse was the scene of many wrongdoings. It is time to right them.

Robert E. Lee County is not even the original name of this area. First it was the home of the Native American Calusa Tribe, and then Monroe county. It was even a Union Fort (Fort Myers).

It was only after the civil war, as a backlash by racists it broke away from its original county and was renamed. One county commissioner who was part of that effort was also the same man who voted to make sure African Americans could not own property or live in any other area than the Dunbar/now MLK area. Public records with the county/city confirm voting by county commissioners to restrict where African Americans lived.

I spoke with a member of the NAACP who told me that as a young man he had to have a permission slip to even go downtown and that he faced racist slurs and had to use separate water fountains and bathrooms.

I took a tour of the County Commission Courthouse when the guide pointed out that African Americans used to be told they could only sit in the balcony area away from whites. When he said that, the group of tourists gasped. They suddenly realized that Lee County, was Robert E. Lee County. They looked at the portrait hanging on the wall that the local police waste so much time and taxpayer money guarding, and they began to express that they no longer thought of the county the same. I even heard some of them express they would look for real estate in Tampa instead.

Racism is bad for business, it's bad for communities and it's bad for tourism. It's time to right a egregious wrong and send a message that we respect all people. It is wrong to honor a man who fought a war to preserve human trafficking. It's time to rename Lee County.

C. A. Hughes, MSW

Cape Coral

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