The memory of military legend, Robert E. Lee, has been heavily challenged by detractors who consider him to be a different figure than depicted in American history. The main subjects that upset people are related to the soldier’s racism and slavery.
Lee was born in Virginia, in 1807. His father was the governor of the state. He was married to the daughter of George Washington’s adopted son. Lee was considered a privileged man, part of the nobility. He graduated from West Point with honors, which was a feat at that time. While not in favor of dissension, when the Civil War started and Virginia withdrew, Lee went with his state. He defeated a succession of larger enemy forces, earning him military renown. That set a precedent on what this individual represents.
Easily found in history books, Lee is portrayed as an authentic United States dignitary.
Discussions about Lee center around slavery. His views about race ignite anger. During his lifetime, he owned slaves. He considered himself a fatherly master but implemented stern punishments. Lee said almost nothing in public about this topic.
His most extended remark was in a letter to his wife in 1856. There he pointed out slavery as an evil, but one that had more harmful effects on the white race than its counterpart. He felt that the harsh discipline, to which they were subjected, profited blacks by making them more civilized. Hence, the greatest risk to maintain the liberty of the whites was the “evil course” chased by the abolitionists, who stirred up hatred.
Some can argue the behavior of Lee, alleging the culture of the time could justify his way of thinking. The truth is, the majority believe the man symbolizes the cruelty of a period that no one wants to recall. People feel it is unfair that history recognizes the American general as a hero but barely talks about his questionable behavior.
Repercussion of the Past
The feelings of resentment against Lee’s past and what he represents are starting to be expressed. A big portion of the country is criticizing the links to his memory, such as statues, school names, and books. People will do anything they can to remove every single resemblance of his image.
For example, in Dallas the mayor placed a resolution on the Sept. 6, 2017 agenda. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway stated:
…the Lee statue doesn’t mean anything to me. But the people…and the voices we listen to are uncomfortable with it…I have responsibility for all citizens.
Council member, Tennil Atkins said his constituents have told him they want the monuments to come down.
Political pressure plays into almost everything you do these days. But it’s more the timing, what is going on throughout the country. Is that political? Or is that just what the citizens want?
The rancor among the people is evident, but perhaps it should not be as strong. Society forgets about the good things faster than the bad. That fact should make people think about their judgments. History has two faces: the pretty and the ugly. No matter what is taken into account, all that should be considered is what directly affects the people. The symbols that represent Lee are just an example of the American warrior. Those do not mean to remind, who he was or what he did, that is the duty of history.
Written by Gian Torres
Edited by Jeanette Smith
The New York Times: The Making and the Breaking of the Legend of Robert E. Lee
The Dallas Morning News: 3 black Dallas council members call for Robert E. Lee monument to come down immediately
KENS 5: NEISD Board to consider changing Robert E. Lee High School’s name
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Philip N Young’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License