Update: One Lee commissioner has now made a gesture to exchange the portrait for one in which Lee is wearing plain clothes according to the News-Press
Several hundred people held an anti-racism vigil Monday night at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples.
Floridians continue reacting to the tragedy that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. A woman was killed while participating in the counter protest of white supremacists who did not want a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee removed. Similar attempts to remove Robert E Lee symbols are being rejuvenated in Lee County.
There were 250 candles available for the Naples vigil. So many people showed up not everyone got a candle.
Angela Cisneros, who spoke to the crowd, said she didn’t want to come. She just went to a vigil the other day and said it’s overwhelming.
She said the end of racism can begin with white people not only listening to the voices of people of color after tragedy happens.
“They don’t always nurture the relationships with the community," said Cisneros . "We can get so much more done if we listen to understand and not just try to include people to show some display of diversity.”
She elicited the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, saying "the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
Lena Jones was there with her wife. They’re members of this Unitarian Universalist church.
“When we do see something that is offensive to others, we should speak out, we should stand up,” said Jones.
Jones said we should stand up for justice for all.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia reinvigorated Lee County’s NAACP President, James Muwakkil’s previous attempts to get Fort Myers to get rid of a Robert E. Lee statue downtown and Lee County to get rid of a portrait of the general that’s in the commission chambers.
“In 2000, we did not think that the Robert E. Lee portrait was relevant to our progress," said Muwakkil. "That was my belief back then.”
Muwakkil said the white supremacists' descent upon Charlottesville to violently defend that town’s Robert E. Lee statue was a wakeup call.
“Now, I can tell you: it’s very relevant,” he said.
Muwakkil said he has no intention of trying to get the name of Lee County changed. He just wants the portrait and statue moved to a place where people need to make the choice to go see them.
“But I understand I may not live to see it," he said.
Muwakkil’s last attempt to have them removed failed. He plans to ask the state and federal NAACP chapters for help this time.
David McAllister, of Florida’s Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Muwakkil is exploiting the situation. McAllister, who said he's the descendent of two Confederate soldiers, said his group does not support white supremacists and has nothing to do with what happened in Virginia.
“We denounce and will not allow as our members any person that espouses any kind of membership in the KKK or white supremacy organizations of any kind," said McAllister. "We won’t have those people.”
McAllister said he went to a vigil in Tampa and he was verbally attacked and called a racist. And there’s a trend, he said. He said the legacy of Confederate soldiers and their descendants are victims of what he calls “the Eracism movement”.
“Many people have analogized what happened to the south as The Southern Holocaust," he said. "Twenty percent of the male population was killed in that war. I was lucky my ancestors didn’t pass away.”
McAllister said removing Confederate monuments is the first step to removing what America stands for.
At the Naples vigil Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom returned from sabbatical for the ceremony saying the pursuit of justice does not rest. He responded to McAllister’s Holocaust reference with a correction.
“When you used the term holocaust, you’re referring specifically to genocide. And while the Civil War was a horrific piece of our American history, it was not a genocide," said Miller. "And I can’t really relate to that. At the same time, I do hear the emotion in that—in that there’s a piece of his story that’s being taken away.”
According to the Associated Press, Robert E. Lee didn’t want monuments for the Confederacy after losing the war. But after his death, he sort of became the mascot for "The Lost Cause" story—a narrative that asserted the South fought a war it knew it couldn’t win based on principle.