Changing name of Robert E. Lee High takes spotlight at community meeting

Northside Coalition, community members hold rally ahead of Monday’s discussion at school

The board continues hearing from the community in a series of meetings about changing the name of Lee and eight other schools. News4Jax reporter Brie Isom was at tonight's gathering.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Northside Coalition and other members of the Jacksonville community gathered Monday afternoon ahead of a meeting, rallying for a name change at Robert E. Lee High School. A meeting on the renaming of Andrew Jackson High School happens Tuesday night.

LINK: Duval County Public Schools name change tracker

Ben Frazier, the president of the Northside Coalition, said in a statement: “Our children should not be forced to live under monuments, names and symbols that perpetuate racism and the myth of white superiority.”

Frazier says Lee was a Confederate general who owned slaves. He says some people are still “fighting a civil war” and that Jacksonville must work together to end racial division and strife.

“We recognize that there is a difference between southern heritage and Confederate heritage. Southern heritage has to do with our culture, Confederate heritage is the perpetuation of slavery,” Frazier said.

The rally came ahead of a meeting at the high school, where members of the community were invited to share their feelings about changing the school’s name. A total of nine Duval County schools are in the midst of the process.

Some of the names suggested during the Monday meeting included Avondale High School or Riverside High School.

Many people are disagreeing over changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. The third of five community meetings was held Monday night.

“I go to a school that directly feeds into Robert E. Lee, and I don’t want Robert E. Lee’s name on my graduation certificate,” said Grace Mae, a seventh grader. “If we’re going to make Jacksonville the big bold city and all of this stuff, we need to make this right for the students and the people.”

As of the publication of this article, nearly 15,000 supporters had added their names to a petition titled “Change the Name of Robert E Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL.

Some who are against changing the name believe the history needs to be preserved.

“We can’t change history. All you can do is learn from history,” one person said during the meeting.

There’s a group of alumni from Lee High School are pushing to keep the school’s name, saying that Lee High has too much history to be renamed.

“Our voice should carry much more weight than the people who never attended this school. We’re the alumni of this school. We love this school. It was never about racism. It never has been about racism for us. It’s about Southern pride,” Lee High School alumnus Joey Steves said previously.

The group formed a committee to oppose the renaming.

There is also a website for those who oppose changing the names:

Six of the schools under consideration for renaming honor Confederate Civil War leaders and the other three schools are named after leaders who perpetrated violence against Native Americans.

The schools under consideration are:

  • Joseph Finegan Elementary
  • Stonewall Jackson Elementary
  • Jefferson Davis Middle
  • Kirby-Smith Middle
  • J.E.B. Stuart Middle
  • Robert E. Lee High
  • Andrew Jackson High School
  • Jean Ribault High School
  • Jean Ribault Middle School

In June, the DCPS Board voted unanimously to begin the consideration process for changing the names of six of the schools. Jackson High, Ribault High, and Ribault Middle schools were added to the list in early August.

The school superintendent will make a final recommendation on any name changes to the school board which will have the final say.

According to the district’s website, a total of 28 meetings are scheduled for the renaming of the nine schools that bear a Confederate leader’s name.