Group’s Version Of Lee Not ‘Persuasive’

April 23, 2021

Editor, The News-Gazette:

Around Lexington, supporters of a group called The General’s Redoubt put up lawn signs urging Washington and Lee University, where I have taught for more than two decades, to keep “Lee” in its name, to continue to honor the Confederate general, slave owner, traitor, and loser, Robert E. Lee. In my W&L email, the Redoubters proudly talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they are willing to give the university to retain the name.

The General’s Redoubt members would tell me they aren’t racists. They just “respect history.” They would tell me that Lee can’t be summed up as a slave owner, traitor, and loser. Lee was a model they will say. Bereft of his estate, he came to Lexington to educate the young men of the future, to seek peace, to stand for something other than a slave regime. Lee was a man of honor, not violence, they would insist.

The Redoubter version of Lee is not one persuasive to me.

But more important is the fact that the Redoubters clearly don’t respect it themselves.

If the Lee they admire was an educator who turned his back on racist, inhumane practices, a man who, even after he, himself, had lost everything devoted himself to sustaining a university and not a lost cause, then how can Lee’s 21st century admirers brag shamelessly about how their money will keep us stuck in W&L’s Civil War past?

Why aren’t they trying to complete the healing that the long, long legacy of hundreds of years of slavery in the Confederacy demands, building future-looking, antiracist educational initiatives instead of gleefully parading the wealth they waste trying to compel us to bow down to their love for one white man who temporarily rose to great power on the most oppressive side of the darkest conflict of United States history?

Can’t the Redoubters see that, in changing W&L’s name (as has been done before), we can display the courageous commitment to a liberating education that is our university’s true legacy? Don’t they know that peace comes only with sacrifice? That it’s for our children’s future, not our ancestors’ pasts that we should labor?

Don’t they know that honor can’t be bought?

Or is it that their hero Lee didn’t embody these qualities after all?

With doubts, generally.



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