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Lee County Residents React To Removal Of Confederate Portrait

Lee County board Of Commissioners Live Stream
James Muwakkil, president of Lee County's NAACP chapter, tells Lee County commissioners Tuesday that he wants the portrait of Robert E. Lee in their chambers to be replaced with one of him out of his confederate uniform.

At Lee County’s regular commission meeting Tuesday morning, locals used the public comment period to voice their opinions about removing Confederate memorials in public spaces. People spoke for and against the move.
There’s a portrait of General Robert E. Lee wearing his Confederate uniform in the Lee County commission chambers. Boni Raitt said she's lived in Lee most of her life. She told county commissioners she supports keeping the painting where it is. 

"By the way, certain people that wanna take it down-- they need to get off their high horse," she said.

Credit Lee County Board Of Commissioners Live Stream
"I am in support of keeping the Robert E. Lee portrait and statue," said Boni Raitt to Lee commissioners Tuesday. "Without him, there would be no Lee County."
Hear Boni Raitt's full address to Lee County commissioners.

Bob Valenta also wants the portrait to stay.

"Let us not forget that all Confederate soldiers are U.S. veterans, per several federal statutes. When you look at the communities that have removed monuments or are scheduled to, you find the most violence going on," he said. 

Credit Lee County Board Of Commissioners Live Stream
Bob Valenta tells county commissioners he thinks the Robert E. Lee painting should stay in commission chambers.

Hear Bob Valenta's full address to Lee County commissioners.

The board did not vote on anything regarding the Confederate portrait. But Lee’s NAACP chapterpresident said he spoke with Commissioner Frank Mann, who was on vacation during the meeting, about a compromise.

James Muwakkil originally wanted the portrait destroyed, but after talking with Commissioner Mann, he said he agrees to replace the painting with one of General Lee in plain clothes.

"We're sensitive to the citizens' concerns regarding their love for Mr. Robert E. Lee," he said. "But we also ask that citizens be sensitive to what that confederate uniform represents to African Americans."

Muwakkil said Lee represents slavery, lynching and raping among other horrors. And he said he’s trying to get ahead of this issue spreading across the nation.

Hear Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil address Lee County commissioners.

A white supremacist rally recently turned deadly over the removal of a General Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. The violent event sparked other municipalities around the country to remove statues.

But for now in Lee County, the future of General Lee’s portrait, as well as a statue in the city of Fort Myers, remains uncertain. 

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.
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