To: Mayor Randy Henderson, City Council Members for the City of Fort Myers, and the Board of County Commissioners for Lee County
Remove Confederate Imagery from Fort Myers Public Spaces
Remove the bust of Robert E. Lee from it's location on Monroe St. in downtown Fort Myers and relocate it to a more appropriate location such as a history museum or Confederate Cemetery in cooperation with members of the Laetitia Ashmore Nutt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Remove the painting of Robert E. Lee from the County Commission Chambers, replace it with a more appropriate painting that represents ALL of the residents and businesses in Lee County. There is not a more appropriate painting of Robert E. Lee that would accomplish this request.
In addition to issuing a formal apology to the residents of Lee county for erecting the bust and hanging the painting in the first place, we ask that the elected officials who serve on city council and on the board of county commissioners listen to the requests of black community leaders and residents, and business owners who rely on tourism, regarding any future plans to create or display monuments to commemorate our shared history that are in line with our values.
Why is this important?We the undersigned believe in creating a strong and healthy community, where the values of equal justice and equal opportunity are shared by all, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or creed. Our community is not only one that is racially diverse; it is also one that includes seasonal residents, and vacationing families. All across the South, Confederate monuments that serve as painful reminders of a past where such a community would not have been possible are being removed and relocated. It is time that the City of Fort Myers joins this movement.
There are many reasons to be a proud southerner, to be proud of our history, our struggles. When we focus all of that “pride” on the symbolism of the Confederacy, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, especially to those among us for whom these symbols represent a time when our ancestors were enslaved, counted as 3/5ths of a human, denied freedom, denied liberty. Furthermore, these monuments conceal the true history of the Confederate States of America and the seven decades of Jim Crow segregation and oppression that followed the Reconstruction era.
The painting of Robert E. Lee that hangs in County Commission Chambers was commissioned by the Laetitia Ashmore Nutt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, at the request of Sheriff F.B. Tippins. The painting was completed by Sheriff Tippins’ brother and unveiled in the courtroom of the Old Lee County Courthouse on January 19th, 1931. At the time the painting was unveiled, the courthouse was segregated. Black citizens were restricted to balcony seating. The courthouse remained segregated until 1963. The painting however, has remained and now looms over each item of business that comes before our County Commissioners.
The bust of Robert E. Lee that stands in downtown Fort Myers was erected in 1966, by the Daughters of the Confederacy. We have heard the story of the creation of the memorial, and why it took until 1966 to see it to fruition. The Daughters of the Confederacy, on two separate occasions, generously donated their Robert E. Lee memorial fund to establish and expand a hospital in Lee County. Lee Memorial Hospital was established in 1915, in the 1940’s, the hospital needed to furnish a nursery, both times, the needs of the community were put ahead of the need for a monument to honor Robert E. Lee.
Lee Memorial Hospital was segregated until 1966. Black patients were not given medical care there; it was a whites only hospital. Black people in need of care had to go to Jones-Walker Hospital, which was the black hospital in Lee County from 1924 until 1966. In addition to the racial segregation, only male doctors were allowed to practice medicine there. Lee Memorial Hospital only granted hospital privileges to a female physician for the first time in 1973. Times have changed. Fort Myers has changed.
Just as a racially segregated courthouse and hospital have had to change along with the times, so should our outward expressions of who we are as a community. It is time to honor our past by recognizing that the painting and the bust of Robert E. Lee no longer represent our community. Not only are they a misrepresentation of the values we hold in our community, confederate monuments have become lightning rods for violence and conflict in other parts of the country. These relics of the past have become symbols of division and racism in our present and it is time that they come down.