A controversial statue has been removed from downtown Fort Myers for safety reasons ahead of a protest planned for Tuesday evening.
The bust of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the county’s namesake, was taken down from its spot on Monroe Street, a move the Sons of Confederate Veterans said was a precaution.
The group wouldn’t go on camera but said on the phone that the protests happening locally and nationwide are not their fight.
James Muwakkil, president of the Lee County NAACP disagrees. He believes the statue, erected in 1966, has everything to do with why people are getting ready to march through the streets.
“I don’t think they took it down because of a change of heart,” Muwakkil said.
The statue has been a topic of controversy for years in Fort Myers. Vandals knocked the bust off its pedestal in early 2019, and many, including the NAACP, have lobbied with the city to have the statue permanently taken down.
“The psychology of Robert E. Lee and what he stood for is undeniable. It’s undeniable that it’s still celebrated, believed today,” Muwakkil said.
A small group of protesters gathered at the statue site on Monday.
Muwakkil said the bust represents issues that still exist in Southwest Florida.
“Robert E. Lee isn’t separate from what we’re seeing throughout the country and what has happened here,” he said. “It should never come back.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans said the bust would go back up when it’s safe to return it.