Restricted Ft Meyers, Florida R.E. Lee Bust

Jan 28, 2021
Ft Meyers, Florida
R.E. Lee Bust

On September 22, 2020 the Fort Myers News-Press reported, “After years of contention, the city council voted to keep the [Lee] bust down. The statue has been gone… since the beginning of June. Mayor Randy Henderson [and 5 council members] voted to keep the statue down. The city does not have the bust since it was removed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) in June. “

In 2014, Mayor Henderson unveiled a completely restored and refurbished Lee bust. That day he emphasized the connection between the memorial and the county’s past by referencing leaders that had helped the county and city transition from a cow town in the last third of the 19th​ century into one of the leading citrus producers and tourist destinations in the early 1900’s.

In March of 2019, the bust was vandalized. It was found lying on the ground next to its pedestal. The SCV carefully reattached it. Glenn Miller of the Southwest Florida Historical Society commented at that time, “Many people of the Lee County community believe this act of vandalism was a moral obligation. They likely see Lee as a traitor who fought … to defend slavery. On the other side are people who claim that the statue of Lee is merely a tribute to their heritage and has nothing to do with slavery.”

The Lee bust was located in the median on Monroe Street in Fort Myers. Sculpted by Aldo Pero of Italy it rested on a shaft of Georgia granite. Inside the base were a dozen Civil War relics which were included at its erection by James W Clifford, a member of the Civil War Commission and long time collector. They included both Northern and Southern scabbards, bullets, guns, swords, belt buckles and other items.

The bust was dedicated January 6, 1966, Clifford and Edna Roberts, chairs of the Lee Monument Fund placed the cherished relics into the monument base “as a symbol of unity between the North and the South.”

When the county was established in 1887, it was named after General Lee. The leading advocate of the creation of the new county was Francis A Hendry. He was a Confederate veteran and for the county namesake desired “a distinguished and laudable character whom the world esteemed and delights to honor.” At that same 1966 dedication, Hendry’s great-grandson was present and remarked, “My great-grandfather made the motion to name the new county in honor of the South’s noblest son. To that motion there was no debate- only instant and wild acclaim. He spoke of qualities [he] hoped the people [of the new county] would emulate.”

When the bust was restored in 2014, Dr Ted Childress, former professor of history at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama spoke about Hendry and the formation of the county in 1887. “That period … was characterized by greed, labor unrest and political corruption and cronyism. People needed to be reminded of the collective importance of attributes such as honesty and integrity,” stated Childress. “It was not Lee successes and failures on the battlefield that Hendry hoped the citizens would remember. It was Lee’s iron integrity – his devotion to truth,” he added.

In 2018, as opposition to its existence grew, local media reported comments about the bust from some citizens. Colin Cote wrote, “Not only should these monuments to traitors be removed. Lee County should change its name to Lincoln County. .. remove these cankers from view.” In response someone replied, “How is a man a traitor who fights for his home? “

Back to that city council vote in 2020 that ended the public’s access to view the bust. The News-Press made this analysis about the decision, “the statue was erected in the mid 1960’s at the height of Jim Crow.” William Sparrow a speaker on the night of the final vote was asked to comment. He said, “The statue’s removal is a symbolic victory but there is more work to do to make Fort Myers a more equitable community for Blacks and other minorities. These are tiny steps in the right direction.” ​