Community meetings held on Robert E. Lee High School name change

Alumni, residents, current Lee High School students, and Parent-Teacher-Student Association members will have an opportunity to weigh in on whether they think the name of Robert E. Lee High School should be changed.

The School Advisory Council of Robert E. Lee High School (SAC) held the first of five community meetings on the issue Feb. 24 at the school. Other similar meetings are scheduled for Thursday, March 4; Monday, March 15; Tuesday, March 23; and Thursday, March 25. All meetings will be held at 6 p.m. in the school auditorium located at 1200 McDuff Avenue South.

The purpose of the meetings will be for SAC to receive community input on renaming the school as well as allowing committee members to gain historical context relating to Robert E. Lee and the initial naming of the high school after the famed Civil War general. Also SAC will discuss possible suggested names for the school in the event it is decided to rename the educational institution. The public will be allowed to speak during the community meetings. Each individual will be given 1.5 minutes to express their opinion.

After the meetings, some members of the public will be allowed to vote on the matter, said Norman Abraham, head of a grassroots alumni group called Joining Abraham, who graduated from Lee in 1956, on the committee are five other Lee alums – Melanie Amos Love, class of 1979; Robert Lawrence, class of 1980; Joey Stevens, class of 1984; Patti Fraser Price, class of 1980; and William “Pat” Geer, class of 1967. The group feels strongly that changing the name will harm the school by affecting the identity of the graduates as alumni, said Love.

Abraham attended the SAC meeting in February when the perimeters for the community meetings and subsequent vote were discussed. He said the only people who will be allowed to vote are dues-paying PTSA members, current Lee High School students, residents who live in the school district covered by Lee High School, and alumni. Alumni will need to provide proof of graduation be it a diploma or, perhaps a photo in the school yearbook, he said, adding that, according to the way the process is set up, some individuals might be able to cast as many as four votes. “If you live in the district, that’s a vote; if you have a child in the school, that child can vote; if you are a PTA member, there is another vote; and if you are an alum, that is another vote. It is possible for one family to have as many as four votes,” he said.

Those who wish to vote on the matter must physically cast a ballot at Robert E. Lee High School, he said. Ballots will be placed in a box in the school’s office for 10 days, from Tuesday, April 20, to Friday, April 30. The voting will be overseen by Robert E. Lee Principal Timothy Feagins and SAC. “SAC will be the ones who will recommend what the new name will be or whether to keep the old name,” Abraham said. “It’s their job to tabulate the ballots along with the principal,” he said.

Abraham said his committee does not believe the process is fair to alumni living out of state or outside of the Riverside area, who may feel strongly about keeping the name but are unable to return to Jacksonville to vote on the matter. He also hopes to change the requirement that alumni present their diplomas since many are older, and it may be difficult for them to present the physical document. Abraham’s committee is also requesting that some of the meetings be held over Zoom so out-of-town alumni can tune in and make themselves heard. “It’s not good for older people. We’re fighting for it and hopefully we’ll win, especially about the diplomas, because we feel it is an unfair request,” he said.

Built in 1927, Robert E. Lee High School is one of the three oldest high schools in Jacksonville. It was dedicated to the Confederate general on his birthday, Jan. 19, in 1928. The school has a proud tradition of academic and athletic excellence, particularly in the sport of football, over its 93-year history. As a historic school, it still operates in its original location. During its long history, Lee High has graduated 92 senior classes and more than 35,000 students from its hallowed halls on McDuff Avenue.               

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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