NAACP wants Lee Commission to remove portrait
Photo: Video by fox4now.com
CREATED Jul. 9, 2013 - UPDATED: Jul. 9, 2013
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Its a debate that has been raging for years. The NAACP wants the Lee County Commission to take down the portrait of Robert E. Lee, in the commission chambers.
In a letter to county commissioners, not only does the NAACP want the painting of Robert E. Lee removed. They also want to change the voting and business practices of Lee County.
Lee County took its name in 1887.
Tom Hall is a historian who leads historical tours in downtown Fort Myers.
He explained that "a lot of the people that lived here were confederate sympathizers" and that many visitors are surprised to see so much public art work devoted to General Lee.
In fact he stated that many of the tourists "are a little dismayed at first to find that we have a memorial to a war general that fought against the union and fought to promote and preserve slavery."
The president for the local chapter of the NAACP feels the same way.
James Muwakkil says that "to us its a symbol of racism and division. "
His chapter sent a letter to the county commissioners requesting this portrait of General Lee -which watches over the commissioners while in session - be taken down.
He feels the painting is symbolic of bigger problems.
The NAACP wants the county to put on the ballot a referendum that would finally create single member districts.
Currently the citizens vote for all the commissioners, in all the different districts
Also... it wants the county to develop a more effective affirmative action program, promoting African Americans to upper management, as well as African American contractors for public works projects.
Muwakkil said that "we want to see lee county use african american qualified contractors. They're using these tax dollars on these public projects and they are excluding us."
County manager Roger Desjarlais was not available for comment but he said he didn't want to speak until he had a chance to review the NAACP letter.
Tom Malloy is a member of Children of the American Revolution. When it comes to the county name and the art work it inspired, he values its historic and artistic significance.
He explained that "its part of our heritage here in America and we really cant run away from that.
Muwakkil insists he doesn't want to run from the past - just create a better future. Adding that "It needs to be more open for all peoples."
Muwakkil says he has not heard back from any of the commissioners but hopes to open up a dialogue with them soon.