Lee Demoted… at Washington & Lee

Robert E. Lee on national reconciliation, from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture: In his public letters, a number of which were reprinted in newspapers, he urged that “all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.” Lee vowed to do “all in my power to encourage our people to set manfully to work to restore the country, to rebuild their homes and churches, to educate their children, and to remain with their states, their friends and countrymen.” Thus when Congress ordered the drafting of new constitutions in the former Confederate states and disgruntled southerners contemplated a boycott of the system, Lee announced that it was “the duty of the [southern] people to accept the situation fully” and that every man should not only “prepare himself to vote” but also “prepare his friends, white and colored, to vote and to vote rightly.”

It’s not easy being Washington & Lee University these days. Talk about the ultimate politically incorrect name — an appellation based on not one but two slave owners!

Of the two, Robert E. Lee is held in the lowest regard these days, reviled as a military commander of the Confederacy rather than his role in reconciling North and South after the Civil War — largely during his tenure as president of the university. So it’s no surprise that W&L’s Commission on Institutional History and Community has issued recommendations to de-emphasize its connection with Lee. That would include re-naming Lee House and the Lee-Jackson House, along with Robinson Hall named for a Rockbridge County plantation owner, reports The News Gazette.

No mention of deleting Lee’s name from the university.

Meanwhile, the commission proposes incorporating the university’s history into its orientation program and curriculum. Among the specifics:

  • “Require each undergraduate student to take a seminar that explores W&L history, including the involvement of the namesakes, the contribution of enslaved persons, the role of W&L in the creation and dissemination of the Lost Cause narrative, the training of soldiers on campus, and the impact of our graduates on the institution and the world. The goal would be neither to mask nor to bash the university’s history, but rather to tell the full story, confident that the university’s positive contributions to society far outweigh its shortcomings. …
  • “During Spring Term, foster campus unity by selecting a topic or issue that the entire community explores and discusses, whether in multiple class offerings that address the topic from different angles; a speaker series that highlights different aspects of the issue.”

In the wrong hands, this could turn into an exercise in white guilt and self-flagellation. I don’t get the sense that W&L is loaded with professors steeped in identity politics bent upon de-legitimizing the nation’s founding… but then the content of a program like this really depends upon who is put in charge and how it is run. So, we’ll have to wait and see.

Whoever runs the program, though, I don’t see these recommendations as “fostering campus unity.” Fostering campus division is more likely.

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11 responses to “Lee Demoted… at Washington & Lee

  1. Typically, Lee is not memorialized for his post-war sentiments but rather his role in the War – and more than a few memorials revere the man on his horse fighting for the South’s way of life.

    We basically have ignored his post-war words and sentiments.. nary a monument that I know of – memorializes his words wishing the South forget the war and move on.

    If Lee were alive today – he would likely OPPOSE the statues and monuments put up to “honor” his role in the war as he did after the war and before his death.

    If Lee were alive today – he would be castigated as a traitor and turncoat by the folks who revere the statues of him!

    The real question is HOW do WE…. want to remember HISTORY? I’d wager if you asked the average black man about Lee – it would be different than many white guys.

    Some white guys say if you take down the statues – you’re “destroying” .. “history”.. but those same white guys don’t remember what Lee actually said after the war with respect to “remembering the history”. He was not in favor – himself.

  2. A good primer on this subject is found at Rage and Race at Yale
    By Heather Mac Donald May 24, 2018 10:28 AM on the university’s latest kowtow to the diversity enforcers.

    Read this article and you will know where it will all end at W&L when Yale University police respond to Sarah Braasch’s phone call, May 8, 2018. Here is a teaser. The article starts as follows:

    “Once again, a college president has chosen to fan the flames of racial grievance rather than to calm them. This time, that president is Yale’s Peter Salovey. No surprise there, since Salovey has rarely missed an opportunity to signal his racial virtue by declaring that he presides over a campus harboring “hate,” “exclusion,” and “discrimination.” Yale’s response to a recent incident of petty dormitory tyranny is a textbook example of how not to lead a university …”

    You can find the entire article at:

    https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2018/06/11/yale-racial-grievances-university-bows-diversity-enforcers/

    Although, this is not the first time at W&L as we’ll discuss later.

  3. https://columns.wlu.edu/jefferson-davis-futch-iii-professor-of-history-emeritus-dies-at-85/

    I would literally rip off a few fingers for just a few minutes listening to Dave Futch’s take on all this. RIP. What a name, right? Any W&L alums out there, you remember him, right? For a happy couple of years, he and Bob Keefe and I had lunch at the White Columns regularly and solved Virginia’s problems. I think we would have concluded that Lee’s name remain on the school and his tomb remain a centerpiece of the campus, and if the carpetbaggers wanted to rage, let ’em go to Tech.

    • Oh, and speaking of university namesakes, one of the first things Futch said to me upon learning of my education was, “Oh, the only college in America named for two queens.” We all got things in our history, people. Judge not lest….

  4. Where is a statue of an obviously wrongly convicted MS-13 member? That’s identity politics on solar power.

    I’ve got nothing for Confederates. Two of my 2nd great grandfathers fought for the North. But if we are going to get into mea culpas, how about all the Africans who captured their enemies and sold them to Europeans and Americans to be slaves?

  5. I think the right answer is not to erase history but to publicly present both sides of history. Walking around Richmond you would think not only that the South won the war but it fought for a righteous and glorious reason. Alexandria is not much better.

    Here’s an idea that makes sense to me -https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/a-national-monument-to-america-s-known-victims-of-lynching/540663/

    I think it’s this group that wants to put a prominent obelisk in every county where white on black lynchings occurred or were reported. That would be the start of telling both sides of the story.

    Washington, Lee and Wilder University. Washington, Lee and Washington (for Booker T Washington)?

    Put up a statue of Mildred Loving on Monument Avenue?

    There are two sides to every story and the US Civil War in Virginia is no exception. Unfortunately, we tend to tell only one side of the story and a very sloppy and lopsided telling at that.

  6. Wilder would want to be first on the nameplate.

    I’m just saying, and I’ve said it before, we want to get that Wilder statue up on Monument while he is still around to make the whole process very entertaining. And maybe a special one of those lynching monuments for Lynchburg, which shares a connection with that heinous stain on American history. Of course he was hanging Tories. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Lynch_(judge)

    • Two things about the Wilder I remember – with regard to what he believed, and with regard to insults against his people, he stood up and fought. He had character. He had courage. That’s who I remember, a guy head and shoulders above the herd.

      It takes character and courage to defend Robert E. Lee today. Qualities that are always in very short supply. But its always easy to be a spineless coward.

      So those at Washington and Lee, little people can’t hold a candle to Lee, yet who enjoy Lee’s legacy and occupy Lee’s office of Washington & Lee, show who they are when they meet adversity, particularly corrupt adversity. They posture and moralize as they scatter with their tails between their legs. This conduct is quite typical in higher education today just like it was in the late 1960s. These institutions far too often are run by little people, managers who by nature are cowards and moral midgets. These are the defining traits of those who today run most of America’s elite universities, moral sissies.

      Lets see how the incoming UVa. president conducts himself. Does he stand up with courage and character against the corrupt tide or does he swim with it, spineless and ineffective, empty moralizers like most of his peers.

  7. re: ” I think it’s this group that wants to put a prominent obelisk in every county where white on black lynchings occurred or were reported. That would be the start of telling both sides of the story.”

    I don’t think the folks that want the Civil War Statues would countenance the lynchings “history” nor “monuments” to a lot of the other things
    done in the name of Slavery in the South like selling Moms and Dads and kids like they were farm stock. We have an Auction Block in Fredericksburg that – as you would expect – is called “history”… but now it needs “context”.

    They basically want THEIR view of history and they want it imposed on others – in public places – and they don’t want to see the others “history” also represented in those public places especially if it impugns their version of history.

    This is really not about “history”. You can’t erase history. It lives on in books, museums, movies, on the web – forever.

    Taking down a statue doesn’t change history. What it changes is what some want others to see and know – “their” history and as I said – they’d not at all go for a monument to lynchings… bet you bottom dollar. Sorta like wanting your “free speech” done at a time a place where others who don’t agree with have to listen to you.

  8. I have always considered Lee an heroic man – and always will. All through K-12 – he was revered in our history textbooks. I became very comfortable with him as a legitimate hero – for his military skills – I never was taught about the rest of the man – that ‘context’ we seem to seek.

    But the history textbooks in the schools I attended – told a very selective history of Lee and the Civil War – and it was years after I left school that I learned about blacks being lynched and other atrocities visited on human beings solely because of their race – in the name of the Confederacy and Jim Crow. And years after that about how Lee himself felt
    about the war and how to go forward after it.

    Still – it does still feel “wrong” to take down Statues and memorials that have stood for more than a hundred years – that many of us grew up with – and found them to be validation of the history we had been taught.

    I live about 5 miles from what used to be the Waller Plantation in Spotsylvania. It’s not on a local tour. Was not taught in local schools. In fact, you’d never know when you were driving by it.

    Here’s a WaPo article about it:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1977/01/28/roots-program-catches-hold-in-virginia-home/efc04e56-baec-4567-9824-d86c177a527c/?utm_term=.98b6e869292b

    So I went to High School in Spotsylvania surrounded by Civil War battlefields and monuments, historic markers and memorials to all the men and their military leaders that fought in the Civil war . Even though we had an elementary school with the name of “Robert E Lee”. But we never knew the rest of the history – of plantations with slaves, families broken apart and sold at auction and lynchings. No history and no memorials to that “history”.

    So we’re at a crossroads here where doing nothing is just as wrong as leaving the monuments up and continuing to pretend that there is no other history other than what those monuments represent.

  9. One reason I think the decision about the statues should be local is the decisions should follow some honest local discussion and debate, and that outcome is more important than what happens with the statues. It might not work out, but its worth doing.

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