Auditorium packed for discussion on renaming Robert E. Lee High School

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The second to last meeting to discuss changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School took place Tuesday night, and there was a big turnout.

The line to get it was so long that the meeting didn’t start immediately at 6 p.m. A police officer told News4Jax that both the auditorium and overflow room were filled with people.

Meetings are being held to discuss renaming nine schools. 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.

A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools said the public interest in the name change at Lee High School is 20 to 25 times higher that other schools.

“I hope the name gets changed and everyone sees the sky doesn’t come falling down,” said Rhonda Stringfellow, a Lee High School alumnus who attended the meeting.

But some members of the alumni want to keep the name.

“It’s going to be Robert E. Lee High School for me for the rest of my life,” said Janie Lee, a member of the alumni.

A week ago, Leon Barrett -- a former coach and player at the school -- attended a recent meeting. He said the name is history that shouldn’t be erased.

“I don’t want it to change. I’ve been here 55 years to some capacity. My heart’s in it and I love it and all the alumni. If they do change, it’s not going to be the same school Robert E. Lee,” Barrett said. “The money will drop out from the alumni and I’d hate to see that happen.”

Ben Frazier, with the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, has supported the effort to rename the schools. He was at the meeting Tuesday night.

“Come on folks. Join us in the 21st century. The Civil War is over,” Frazier said.

He said there is growing support to change the name, and he’s hopeful it will happen based on the number of people who have attended the meetings.

“We don’t need our children learning in this environment with a school with a Confederate namesake,” Frazier said.

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. The group formed a committee to oppose the renaming. There is also a website for those who oppose changing the names:

Supporters of the name change have had nearly 15,000 people add their names to a petition titled “Change the Name of Robert E Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL.

The process for changing the names is as follows:

  • Schools will invite the community stakeholders who can verify their involvement with the institution.
  • Each school will host meetings with those stakeholders, during which the school’s namesake figure will be scrutinized and examined. These meetings will also allow stakeholders to make recommendations for alternative names to the School Advisory Committee.
  • The School Advisory Committee will create a shortlist of possible names on which the school community will vote.
  • The school will provide the results of that vote to the superintendent.
  • The superintendent will make a final recommendation on any name changes to the school board which will have the final say.

About the Author:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.