Alumni hot about name change petition

Alumni hot about name change petition

Who is Brandon Kirsch and why is he stirring things up?

Alumni at the first ever 65th anniversary class reunion of Robert E. Lee High School certainly had a lot to talk about last month. The Class of 1948 most likely did much more than simply catch up with their classmates’ lives; they also probably vented about the online petition currently circulating for a name change to the high school.

Just when you think the War Between the States has been firmly put to bed in the history books, someone fires another shot across the bow.

On Aug. 1 the Times-Union printed a letter from reader Brandon Kirsch of Neptune Beach, who has created a petition to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School, claiming “There are so many inspirational Americans to name a high school after. Why a slave-owning Confederate general deserves such an honor is beyond my
comprehension.” Lee alumni were quick to fire back.

LeeHS_01John Pringle, Class of 1950, sent an email to classmates about the petition and also made his opinion known with the Times-Union. “Since the attendance at Lee is now predominantly black, it is felt that the name of a slave-owning Confederate general is not an appropriate name. Would you like to see your high school named Dr. Martin Luther King High School or The Rev. Jesse Jackson High School? I for one bitterly oppose such a name change and I am sure many of you do also,” read his email.

Reader responses on Jacksonville.com were varied, as were comments posted to the petition site, where 14 have petitioned for the name change and five are against the petition.
Noted one comment on the petition website, “Robert E. Lee, without exception, was the finest general in the Civil War. If he had stayed with the North and took command of the Army of the Potomac, as was offered, the war would have ended quickly. But he was a man of honor and went back to his home state to serve the South. No, don’t change the name of Robert E. Lee High School. I suspect if you dug back into the background and history of everyone a school was named after you might have to change 90% of the names. Leave well enough alone. Go find something else to complain about, something with substance, something meaningful.”

Lee High School alumni, for the most part, are against the idea of a name change. Wrote Terry Weitzel, “You might mention that George Washington was also a slave-owner. Should we rename Washington, DC and Washington state, and what should we do about the Washington Monument? How about Andrew Jackson? Native Americans should remember that he ordered the removal of the Cherokee from their homeland, resulting in many deaths along the Trail of Tears. Let’s rename Jacksonville!”

Some opposing opinions are even stronger. “I would rather see the school torn down than give in to changing the name,” said Al Marshall, Jr. in an email.

Though not an alumnus, Ray King, had a different opinion: “Only the location and name are the same. The campus is different, the school interior is different. The culture and the student population are definitely different than from a generation ago. The only thing left other than the location is the original name which represents a culture different from what is there now. The alumni know who they are and when they were there. They do not send their children there now so a name change should have no bearing on their reunions. There is no significant connection between the older alumni and the students now other than the school name. Robert E. Lee High School will always be theirs in tradition, fond in memory. It is, in reality gone. A name change might be a relief. I am a Bolles graduate of 1952, otherwise I would have attended R. E. Lee and am considered by some to be an alumnus because of a book I wrote about us way back then. The campus there at Bolles is also quite different than two generations ago, but the culture there, though now no longer military, and now co-educational and mixed racially is essentially the same. Alumni still send their children there [to Bolles]. They don’t to Lee. They can’t. Just let it go.”

Another alumnus posted an opposing viewpoint on the petition website. “It is fitting that the current students at Lee High School select an appropriate name for the school in light of the injustices imposed on their forebears,” stated Jackson Harper, Class of 1950.

So, just who is Brandon Kirsch, beyond someone with a strong opinion about Robert E. Lee? The Resident attempted to contact Kirsch to find out more about the man and his petition, but his phone number is disconnected or no longer in service. According to another news outlet, Kirsch, a Canadian, is a dermatology resident at Mayo Clinic Florida.
By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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