With the assistance of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, cancel culture continues to surface on the First Coast, this time over the proposed renaming of Robert E. Lee High School.
Lee, the son of Revolutionary War hero Light Horse Harry Lee, graduated second in his class at West Point and won distinction in the Mexican-American War. He was asked to serve in the Union army but felt committed to the South due to his family roots, including marrying the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington whose family owed the 1,000 acres which is now the Arlington National Cemetery. Lee donated the land to the federal government. After the war, Lee wanted to retire but was asked to serve as president of Washington University, now known as Washington and Lee. He also played a prominent role in Northeast Florida, including ordering defenses along the St. Johns River including at Yellow Bluff Fort. Those who are vilifying Lee, don’t know him.
I would not be surprised if cancel culture comes for “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beloved hymns in the English language. Most people know the first and second verses by heart.
In the world we live in, everyone is condemned for not being perfect. John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace,” owned and traded slaves in England during the 18th century. But Newton changed his ways, thanks to surviving a shipwreck and pleading to God. After being given that second chance, Newton took his faith far more seriously and became one of the leading abolitionists of his era. He helped change British laws on owning slaves and trading them.
While Newton’s efforts did not take immediately prove successful, he reflected on his life and wrote “Amazing Grace.” There is no song in our language that reminds us how flawed we are–and still deserving of grace, love and compassion. The song reminds us that all of us make bad decisions and, hopefully like Newton, most of us will learn from them.
Advocates of cancel culture should take the time to read about the people they are trying to erase from history and look for the good and totality of their lives.
Matt Schellenberg was first elected to the Jacksonville City Council back in 2011 and won a second term in 2015. He was term-limited in 2019