Organizers in Lee County, Florida, are attempting to “rebrand” the place they call home originally named after notorious and racist Confederate General Robert E. Lee to now honor actor, martial artist and cultural icon Bruce Lee.
Kynala Phillips of NBC News has reported that “in an effort to ‘eradicate’ racism in both Florida and across the country, a local arts organization is calling for the rebrand instead of a complete name change to minimize the costs, while still changing the narrative behind the county’s namesake.”
In an interview, Brian Weaver, owner of the Florida-based organization Artsemble Underground who created the Change.org petition, told NBC, “I’m not a fan of living in Robert E. Lee County. It doesn’t make me proud.”
According to Phillips, “In the petition, the group of artists said they chose Bruce Lee, to replace Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, as the county namesake because of his impact as a leading actor, martial artist and pop culture icon of his time.”
Although Bruce Lee was born in Hong Kong, he ultimately made his way to the U.S. to attend school and eventually began teaching martial arts. He then moved on to the film industry, producing and starring in classic films such as Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury, and The Game of Death.
“He is credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films,” Weaver writes in his petition. “We are not trying to change our past, we are trying to improve our future, and what better way than [to] use an inspiring, positive influential figure as our namesake.”
“Lee County was originally named in 1887 at the behest of prominent Fort Myers citizens and Confederate Capt. Francis Hendry,” Phillips reported. “Hendry was a fan of the controversial general, who, over time, was transformed into a pillar of the South, despite being responsible for hundreds of thousands of American deaths during the Civil War. And at one point, Robert Lee’s family owned hundreds of enslaved people.”
This recent petition is not the first time people in the county have tried to change its name. During the summer of 2020, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Florida couple tried to garner community support for a county name change that would honor the Indigenous Calusa Tribe of Southwest Florida, but their effort sadly failed. Lee County officials have not yet addressed Weaver’s new initiative for changing the name of the county.
“Robert E. Lee never even set foot in our county. He has nothing to do with this place,” Weaver told Phillips. “All we have to do is rewrite the definition of our county. The community is begging for this to change. If Virginia’s done it, why can’t we do it?”