JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A recent editorial cartoon by local artist Ed Hall visualizes an argument that’s long been made by supporters of renaming Robert E. Lee High School.
Lee High School has been the site of the most fervent debate during the months-long process that Duval County Public Schools is employing to consider renaming nine of its campuses that currently bear the names of controversial historical figures.
The illustration, published on April 8, shows a young, Black girl standing in front of the high school’s sign on which the words “renaming school community meeting” posted underneath the school’s name. The image also shows the girl’s shadow cast on a wall with her silhouette in chains.
One of the main arguments in support of the effort to rename Lee High has been the effect the school’s name has on its student population which is comprised of more than 70% Black students.
“Children are our future,” said name change supporter Sheila Wright. “We cannot allow them to continue to see images of traitors, traitors, they fought against the United States. So why? Why are we honoring them?”
Quisha King, who is part of a group pushing to retain Robert E. Lee’s name on the high school, doesn’t like the artwork.
“It is a misrepresentation of the situation,” King said. “It’s a misrepresentation of the ability of the kids. You know, the chains? That is, like, that’s a bit much.”
While Hall said he understands the position of the opponents to rename the schools, he said he was empathetic to the repression that the school’s name imposes on its students of color.
“I kept thinking back to Ruby Bridges in 1960, that little girl that went to school, they tried to keep her out of school, but she went and she marched past all those National Guardsmen,” Hall said. “That that image just kept coming to me and coming to me, and I thought, ‘well, what would be an interesting shadow shape coming off of a little girl,’ because it’s difficult for people to understand what it would be like to face that sign every day going to school.”
Hall is no stranger to taking on hot button political topics in his cartoons but said, once he put himself in the shoes of a young, student of color at Lee High, he was convinced of his position.
“I could never fully understand what it would be like to face that every single day,” Hall said. “But it just kept going through my mind, ‘what must it be like to face that every single day, with that name on that sign?’ And, you know, I fell on that side.”
The illustration also drew heavy criticism from opponents to the name change.
“Our interpretation is that it shows how they think: that anyone who goes there is still enslaved,” said Joey Stevens, Lee High Alumnus and founder of SaveOurSchoolNames.org. “It has never been about race with us. It’s always been about the wasted money and the lies of oppression.”
Stevens has been an outspoken advocate of preserving the Lee High School name and has spoken out at multiple community meetings on the matter. One appearance in which he claimed that “Jesus Christ never condemned slavery,” was featured in a viral video clip.
Those calling for the school to be renamed say that every day students have to go to a school named after a confederate leader is a disservice to their education.
“I do not want to see that continue,” Wright said. “Our children must finally be in a school named after someone who thought we were less than.”
Community balloting for Lee High School’s name change begins April 26 and lasts for two weeks. The ultimate decision on whether to rename the schools falls upon the DCPS board which is expected to take a vote in its June meeting.