A new Change.org petition is seeking to rebrand Lee County in southwest Florida to Bruce Lee County.
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.
“I’m not a fan of living in Robert E. Lee County. It doesn’t make me proud,” said Brian Weaver, owner of the Florida-based organization Artsemble Underground, which started the petition last month.
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.
During Bruce Lee’s ascent to fame, he produced a number of films in Hong Kong, where he was raised before heading to the United States to attend school and eventually teach martial arts. In his later years, he became widely known for producing one of the first co-productions between Hollywood and Hong Kong, “Enter the Dragon.”
“He is credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in American films,” the petition reads. “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. 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.
Lee County officials said the county doesn't make decisions on name changes.
“Robert E. Lee never even set foot in our county. He has nothing to do with this place,” Weaver said, adding that this latest petition to change the county’s name is not the first.
In 2020, after the killings of George Floyd while in police custody and Breonna Taylor in a botched police raid, a Florida couple started a petition to rename Lee County after the Indigenous Calusa Tribe of Southwest Florida, according to NBC2 News. That petition gained more than 8,000 signatures. Weaver believes a major barrier to that campaign may have been money, considering a new name would require a complete branding overhaul.
"All we have to do is rewrite the definition of our county," he said.
The country's ongoing racial reckoning has prompted many remnants honoring Lee and the Confederacy to be removed nationwide. Last month, a 131-year-old statue of Lee towering over Richmond, Virginia, was taken down and cut into pieces.
“The community is begging for this to change,” Weaver said. "If Virginia’s done it, why can’t we do it?”