JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A renewed effort to rebrand Jacksonville public institutions baring the name of confederate figures appeared online in late May.
As of the publication of this article, nearly 3,000 supporters had added their names to a Change.org petition titled "Change the Name of Robert E Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL.”
“America’s foundation has been shaken in 2020,” the petition’s description said. “Two horrific acts have been taken on innocent African American men: Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. There has been plenty of awareness on the subject of racism; however, it’s time to do something.”
The petition is directed to the Duval County School District, as well as school board members Ashley Smith Juarez, Cheryl Grymes, Elizabeth Andersen, Warren Jones, Darryl Willie, Charlotte Joyce, Lori Hershey and Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.
“Robert E. Lee’s name is a social stigma that haunts Jacksonville as it is a constant reminder of the racism and hate that exists today,” the petition’s description said. “The students of Jacksonville deserve to go to a school they’re proud of going to, named after a man whose legacy positively impacts people of color, not a monster who didn’t even want to see them as free men and women.”
To change the name of a school in Ducal County, current students alumni or community members who live in the school’s attendance zone would need to submit an official petition to the school board with a number of signers equal to that of 75% of the school’s current population, or 1,346 signatures.
Darryl Davis owns a business on the same block as Lee High School.
“A change would be nice when you think about what Robert E. Lee represented even during those times,” Davis said. "All the schools that are named after individuals of that nature should be changed to kind of let something else resonate with the students that kind of has a more endearing effect.”
Others say the name shouldn’t be changed.
One News4Jax reader said, “Tearing down historical monuments, renaming schools, what’s next? Those who forget history will be doomed to repeat it.”
Data from the school district’s website shows the current enrollment at Robert E. Lee High School is 1,794 as of May 19. It also shows 69% of students at the school are African American.
Four other Duval County schools have prominent confederate figures as their namesake; J.E.B. Stuart Middle School, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Joseph Finegan Elementary and Jefferson Davis Middle School.
In 2013, the Duval County school board voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, later renaming it Westside High School. Forrest was a general in the confederate army.
In 2017, vandals pulled the letters from the Robert E. Lee High School sign and the word “racists” was sprayed in red paint on one side of the sign, according to Duval County police.
News4Jax reached out to a DCPS spokeswoman she said the school board has final say on any name changes. She also said that while she’s unaware of any recent school board discussion on this topic, we’ll be updated if that changes.
News4Jax received the following response message from the Robert E. Lee Alumni Association Inc. Facebook page:
“As a 501c3 organization, we are prohibited from engaging in political discourse. We will not be commenting.”