Activists Want to Erase Wynwood's Robert E. Lee Park, but Officials Say It Doesn't Actually Exist

This park next to Jose de Diego Middle School still shows up on Google Maps as "Robert E. Lee Park," but school board officials say that hasn't been its real name for decades.
This park next to Jose de Diego Middle School still shows up on Google Maps as "Robert E. Lee Park," but school board officials say that hasn't been its real name for decades. Photo by Tim Elfrink
Confederate monuments are falling across the United States, torn down by angry mobs in North Carolina and removed in the dead of night by Baltimore officials. The movement is a long-overdue reckoning with racist symbols that were often installed decades after the Civil War simply to intimidate black people.

After President Donald Trump's shocking thumbs-up to neo-Nazis this past Tuesday, Coral Gables native Sarah Tralins went searching online to see whether her hometown had any statues or streets named for Rebels. Sure enough, Google Maps pulled up a hit: Robert E. Lee Ballfield in Wynwood. Tralins was even more horrified to see that the park was right next to Jose de Diego Middle School, which is named for a Puerto Rican poet and independence leader.

"I thought it was especially appalling because it's on middle school property," says Tralins, who began tweeting Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to ask for support to change the park's name. "Any school should be a safe space where we can elevate the kind of people who should be role models to kids."

There's only one problem: Miami-Dade school officials say Google Maps is wrong, and so are the regular mentions in the Miami Herald and other local media accounts. There is no Robert E. Lee Park, they say. Sure enough, a visit to the fenced-in yard next to the school shows no signs commemorating the Confederate general.

"There is no signage of any type on the south end of the property to indicate that it is named for Robert E. Lee," says John Schuster, a spokesperson for the school district. "This is the first that we have been made aware of the name appearing on internet mapping systems."
click to enlarge VIA GOOGLE MAPS
via Google Maps
So what gives? It seems Google and the local media never caught on to a name change the school district pulled off almost three decades ago.

Way back in 1924, Robert E. Lee Middle School was built on this site on the north end of Wynwood. The school honored the Rebel leader for decades — a move that wasn't unusual at that point in South Florida, says Paul George, resident historian at HistoryMiami.

"People forget that Miami was a very Deep South city," George says. "Robert E. Lee's birthday was a holiday as late as the '20s in Miami. There were two flags in every public school classroom: American flags and Confederate flags."

But by the late '80s, both Miami and Wynwood had changed dramatically. When the school was torn down and rebuilt in 1989, it was renamed for Jose de Diego, a hero of Puerto Rican nationalism; at the time, Wynwood was Miami's most heavily Puerto Rican neighborhood.

The ballpark next to the school, though, seems to have never quite lost its tie to the Confederate general. Miami Herald sports stories continued referring to it as Robert E. Lee Park well into the late '90s, and Google's mapping system apparently picked up on the name as well.

Schuster says the school district would prefer that Google update its information to call the park by its appropriate name: Jose de Diego.

"The administration is willing to ask any agency that is listing one of our properties incorrectly to change it so that the correct name is available to everyone," he says.

Tralins says she'll now turn her activism toward Google. She'd like to see the honor for Lee wiped off the web the same way the school district took his name off the property decades ago.

"It's really important that we work to overcome this cultural legacy around the Confederacy and its racism," she says.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink