Democrat Cindy Banyai called on Lee County leaders to take down a bust of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
As protests broke out in Fort Myers over the death of George Floyd, the candidate for Congress said there’s urgency to the issue.
“It is necessary to craft solutions together to ensure the safety of all members of our community,” reads a release issued by her campaign. “The first step is removing the bust of General Robert E. Lee from downtown Fort Myers, as well as all other public effigies of the leader of this unsuccessful rebellion against the United States of America. This small effort would demonstrate the commitment of Southwest Florida leaders to dismantling systemic racism, first from the public image, then from the institutions themselves.”
Banyai is one of two Democrats running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District
The county’s long history of honoring Lee has been controversial for more than 100 years. The jurisdiction broke from Monroe County in 1887 and named itself for Lee despite the military leader having no connection to the region and never visiting.
The bust of Lee, which has been toppled in demonstrations in the past, now sits near the City of Palms Garage. Sculpted by an Italian sculptor, it was commissioned by the Laetitia Ashmore Nutt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and first displayed in 1966. The statue sits on a base filled with Civil War relics.
A lengthy blog post on ArtSWFL describes the historical reasoning of the past and the problematic present with the county’s naming and the current display of the bust.
The NAACP in Lee County has asked for the bust to be moved. Now the Floyd protests have sparked new conversation.
“Let’s work together to make that change now,” Banyai said.
Banyai could not participate in weekend protests in Fort Myers, citing her daughter’s health and concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But she stressed her support of the event in a statement.
“Local, state, and national leaders have failed to protect our black communities,” Banyai said. “Local leaders are more focused on helping themselves than helping the communities they serve, something I have seen repeatedly over the past decade as I have watched leaders disregard reports I have made on minority communities as nothing more than just a piece of paper that they use to cross off their checklists. Politicians want to demean protesters, yet they don’t offer any solutions to the problems at hand of systemic racism and police brutality.”