Robert E. Lee: Why No School Should Bear His Name

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Robert E. Lee High School. Photo by Jaime Solis.

Jaime Solis / Rivard Report

Robert E. Lee High School is in the North East Independent School District.

Every Texas student should study Robert E. Lee, a figure who deserves his prominent place in the history books, even on a battlefield pedestal, and especially in the memories of all who understand the defining nature of the American Civil War and its permanent imprint on the American character.

Give Gen. Lee his storied place in history. Mount him in marble and granite on his great horse Traveller at Gettysburg, where a statue can be viewed in context. But don’t elevate him as a symbol of moral excellence for succeeding generations to emulate.  He betrayed his country and his oath, and he led the armies that sought to perpetuate slavery in the South.

That’s why San Antonio should not have a high school named for Lee, even if his life story includes chapters in San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country at Fort Mason, and along the Texas-Mexico border as a young officer. As this nation continues to evolve – the evidence includes two decisions this week by the U.S. Supreme Court, one to recognize the legal right of gays to marry, and the other the government’s right to extend health care to its neediest citizens – debating a high school’s name change should be a learning moment for the community.

For starters, we should ask why so many schools, libraries and other public buildings are named for men, while so few are named for women. How many of the San Antonio’s civil rights leaders are honored on buildings outside the inner city? State by state over the last 20 years, we have wrestled with the beloved yet denigrating mascot names and images employed for decades at many universities and K-12 schools. One by one, most but not all of those insulting images have fallen by the wayside. Civilization as we know it did not collapse in the wake of such changes.

I am no expert, but I’ve read extensively about the Civil War and the men on both sides who stood at the forefront of the war’s defining political and military moments. I’ve also made a periodic study of Texas textbooks, which often cater to the lowest common denominator of a review committee, and I can tell you this: Texas public school children never come to terms, fully and profoundly, with the true dimensions of human bondage in our nation’s history and this state’s part in defending slavery and violently suppressing those who opposed it. Nor do our students truly study Lee’s moral failing when he chose to serve Virginia over the United States, turning down President Lincoln’s offer to command Union troops, and never seriously considering the third option of surrendering his officer’s commission and retiring to civilian life.

Screenshot of David Brooks during his recent TED talk.

Screenshot of David Brooks during his recent TED talk.

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, stirred the Lee debate anew Friday morning with publication of his commentary titled, “The Robert E. Lee Problem.” Brooks is both journalist and moralist, a term I don’t use lightly and would bestow on few others in this trade. Anyone who follows what I write knows I wrote admiringly of Brooks last year when he visited Trinity University for a speech and to meet with students.

(Read more: David Brooks on Character and Citizenship.)

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro has made his own views on the matter known in a number of social media postings, including his response this week on Facebook to an announced decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the state capital grounds in Kentucky.

Outgoing Mayor Julián Castro talks friends and citizens before the mayoral election. Photo by Scott Ball.

Outgoing Mayor Julián Castro talks with friends and citizens before the mayoral election. Photo by Scott Ball.

Sec. Castro wrote: “Glad to see this. In San Antonio, North East ISD should call together a group of board members, students and community members to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School as well. There are other, more appropriate individuals to honor and spotlight as role models for our young people.”

Good idea, but why limit the conversation to the school district? I would invite readers who stand on both sides of this issue to read the Brooks column with an open mind and agree that our city can revisit this subject, unafraid to re-examine long-held beliefs.

Not so long ago, incidents of racial violence, however horrid, were not enough to force the lowering of Confederate flags. Times change, as we witness now. Someday – soon, I hope – we will see the continuing episodes of mass murder in our country lead to more sensible gun control laws.

The key in any civil society, in my view, is not to see such issues from one’s personal point of view, but to see such matters from the perspective of the collected citizenry. That’s why people who are personally uncomfortable with gay marriage because of their religious beliefs or social upbringing, should understand that the greater good demands change even if they cannot make that change individually. Let the law reflect the greater good, not individual mindsets.

In the case of Robert E. Lee, a great general and a good man in many ways, there is no escaping the fact the society he defended, and led men to fight and die for, was one where black men and women would still live in chains, physically and metaphorically, to serve nothing more than the economic needs and wants of wealthy white Southerners. Do we expect our fellow black citizens to accommodate the misguided desire to preserve Lee’s name on a school, the very place where we send children to learn?

There are, of course, other Confederate symbols in this city and many other public places in Texas that bear the names of lesser Confederate leaders and pro-slavery figures in history. But Lee stands as the single most recognizable leader in the war to preserve slavery. Addressing the matter is entirely in our hands in this city, regardless of what is done in other places where we do not exercise the same oversight and responsibility. If we do act, it’s entirely possible others elsewhere will follow in our footsteps.

As we take down the Confederate flag from its last places of honor, so, too, it is time to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from its places of honor and leave him to the pages of history.


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83 thoughts on “Robert E. Lee: Why No School Should Bear His Name

  1. I enjoy reading your Report, but on this subject I do not agree that a big thing made to change our American history.
    Will it stop the threat of ISIS on Christians? Will it stop the devaluation of the dollar? We have our “causes.” This cause is seeking to distract us from issues that really matter. Get your head straight. Please.

    • Agreed. We should be focusing on more important issues than constant political correctness. Anyone who knows more of Robert E. Lee than the simple fact that he led the Confederate army knows that his love of his home state of Virginia is what led him to join the Confederacy. He is known as one of the most honorable men in history, whose code of honor permeates some of the most respected institutions in this country. Shall we now look at changing the name of the university he led, one of the most well-respected universities in the nation, Washington & Lee? He might be a symbol of slavery to some, but perhaps those same people should do their research. If we’re whitewashing Robert E. Lee from our history, we might as well throw George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in there as well, by the same logic. Changing the name of a school isn’t going to eliminate racism.

  2. I suggest you read Gilbert Garcia’s excellent column. Before you pull any signs down, explain away the slavery credentials of Travis, Bowie and the first seven or so slave-owning presidents.

    Lee did break his oath to the U.S., his home. And yet Virginia, his ancestral home, voted to pull out of the Union. What allegiance did that require? Which was greater?

    It was not a simple war.

    • I would agree that it was not a simple war. I disagree entirely with you comment and the article you link to.

      While it is true that many past presidents did in fact own slave and participate in the culture of slavery, they are not simply remembered for owning slaves. They are remembered for the important work of fighting against the British, establishing the United States, and promoting democracy. While the owning of slaves is deplorable it does not negate all the good they did. Many American are able to reconcile that within their own minds.

      Lee is different because he is remember for, as Robert put it, betraying his country and his oath, and leading armies against the US that sought to perpetuate slavery in the South. That is the exact reason he has been honored and why the school bears his name. It is nearly impossible reconcile that with any other thing he may have done that is less memorable.

      Finally, the argument that because others participated in slavery that we should still uphold and honor a confederate traitor seems to part of be a false dichotomy that you and Mr. Garcia are perpetuating using. Either we can honor all or none is disingenuous at best.

      • Sorry, Scott.

        I am not responsible for anyone else’s ignorance of history. The fact that many people wish to view Robert E. Lee as a one-dimensional character doesn’t alter historical truth.

        Nonetheless, if our society wishes to officially erase the vestiges of Southern culture, so be it. I trust you will continue to enjoy all the images of U.S. heroes which have been thoroughly cleansed for mass consumption.


  3. I agree that no public building should be named after a Confederate official as an honor. They gave up their US citizenship and succeeded to continue slavery. Even though they were, in many cases, given it back afterwards, they definitely should NOT be honored in any way.

    For statues, however, I feel differently. These should NOT be removed, since they are historical artifacts and art work, but they should have new plaques that give details about that person’s life such as renouncing their US citizenship, contributing to the deaths of many Americans, losing the war, and then having a statue erected because of a bunch of sore losers. It’s a very teachable moment about how these people (mostly men) are examples of what NOT to be instead of what to aspire to.

    • We shouldn’t destroy the statues, but we should relocate them from locations where they serve to glorify the historical figure they represent to a location where their actions are described within the context of their time. The most obvious location would be a museum.

      The underlying theme of this Rivard article and the David Brooks column appears to be that we should not ignore or attempt to obliterate history by removing statues, flags, or names from public facilities, but rather that these historic figures should be located appropriately so that they are understood and remembered, but not glorified.

    • Steve,

      Were you simply unable to make your point without lapsing into some sort of hateful diatribe, or are you really that bitter – and blind?

      Tell you what: I’ll support your suggestion, IF this new-and-improved approach to historical accuracy will apply equally, across the board. Every statue, plaque or monument (especially if dedicated to one of those bad ol’ men) MUST contain ample information regarding any negative attributes of the deceased.

      Eventually, all we’ll have left “are examples of what NOT to be”!


  4. Math homework for today:

    Find every Confederate veteran who, before or after the war became a congressman, a senator, a judge, a statesman, a doctor who made some medical breakthrough.

    Now strike forever any distinction, public or private, ever bestowed on them. Because by the logic of this report they were simple traitors to this country.

    Lee is not simply honored by Southerners in general or Southern racists nutbags in particular. Within the U.S. military he and others, like Stonewall Jackson, are held out as great soldiers. Still taught at West Point and generally, I dare say, admired and revered.

    The country tore apart for five years in the 1860s. Those who fought and died on both sides were Americans before, during and after.

      • I am Hispanic and I encouraged my son to purchase a confederate flag and I taught him the history of that flag and how originally it was the American flag…. that was even flown during battles in other countries. Over history the flag was replaced but still held in high honor in our history…. such so that in the civil war, one side flew it as their flag in battle…. nonetheless still a part of history. It wasn’t until a hate group took it and flew it in the name of their hate that it became tainted…. no fault to its original purpose. No longer valued by all as part of our story. Original purpose and value should never lose its significance because of the darkness of others. If that were so then we would surrender our belief that the rainbow 🌈 is a symbol of one of God’s promises. My concern in this politically correct witch hunt is that once they have rewritten American History and taken down every monument and renamed every public establishment…. they will come after the cross. After all, that same group that waves the confederate flag and holds Robert E Lee in high regard also calls themselves Christian and display the cross at their rallies. Pray that God would open our eyes.

    • I agree! I think this entire subject is a red herring. How about Congress selling us out, again, with the TPP? How about our leaders trying to push us towards a nuclear war? Why aren’t we hearing more about this? Why aren’t we as vocal about these realities as we are about battle flags and statues? We can’t change the past but we can try and save our future.

    • You’re wrong, they were not Americans during!

      Studying and even admiring his military prowess is very different then upholding him a hero. In a military school such as West Point it make sense to study or admire him. It does not in San Antonio today.

      Those other confederate who were grated their citizenship back and went on to accomplish other thing are honored for the other things not for simple for being Confederates. They like past president were wrong, but many Americans can are willing to recognize those who did other great things and forget the rest.

    • Well, some people feel it will. I have no ancestral ties to this debate (all my ancestors came to the US after the Civil War), yet I still support efforts to de-emphasize and remove Confederate symbolism.

      My Polish Catholic ancestors endured great strife during WWII. I cannot imagine how horrified I would feel if I were to hear that a large group of Germans still wanted to display those hateful symbols in 2015 because of their “heritage”. The Stars and Bars do not indicate slavery and racism to every American, but they do so for broad sections of the American public and it is well past time for supporters of “Southern Heritage” to move on.

      • “…it is well past time for supporters of ‘Southern Heritage’ to move on.”

        Thank you for your suggestion, Andy.

        I’ll give it all the consideration it deserves.

      • Andy,
        If the supporters of, as you say, “Southern Heritage” are going to move on, what are you going to do? Continue to rage against anything not of “Northern Heritage.” Sounds very Civil War like. Oh, I forgot, that is over, I think.

  5. Didn’t the Castro’s graduate from Thomas Jefferson HS? Jefferson, the slave owner, who fornicated with at least one of his slaves? I’m sure the Supreme Court Justices, who the Northside District high schools are named for, had some now unfavorable rulings. Let’s just name all of our schools by number, since no human is without something questionable in their past. Oh but we’ll have to skip over numbers 13 and 69. And let’s calm down about the statues. They are art. We shouldn’t try to erase our history, but learn from it.

  6. I’m sorry my friend, but you have this wrong. Robert E. Lee not only served his state at a time when duty required it, but after laying down his sword in a way that gave admiration and pride to the Union generals, and allowed confederate soldiers to go home with pride because of his example, rather than becoming guerrilla warriors like could have so easily occurred, he moved on to lead a UNIVERSITY…in fact help insure this institution of higher learning earned funding and survived! Just as he lead West Point before the war, he proved a wonderfully talented teacher and administrator for higher learning. He is a fabulous example for students of all races to understand:
    -the culture of that age and why men went to die for “honor”, something that isn’t done today.
    -that all men are flawed-capable of good and evil, and should be studied within that context.

    I every great historical leader comes with flaws. Robert E Lee was no more racist than Abraham Lincoln was. Study this point please.

    Don’t trash and remove American History on a whim, and do not paint all Southern leaders and men with a racist brush.

    Joe Z.

  7. Brooks’ article was factually incorrect. Lee did free the Custis slaves.

    On a broader scope – should Lincoln’s namesakes be changed, too, based on his views regarding slaves and colonization?

  8. It is an extremely controversial issue. For example, one of the reasons Texas seceded from Mexico was so that slavery could still be exercised in Texas, since Mexico abolished slavery in 1929. I don’t think any Texas “hero” statue is coming down anytime soon. Many did support slavery and many were racist and unjust towards Mexican and Tejano families living here prior to the revolt. I don’t think any schools or streets are going to be renamed because of that. They also did great things for Texas. Another example is President Andrew Jackson. Because of him many Native Americans perished during the Trail of Tears, yet he is in the $20 bill. He also accomplished great things like denationalizing the Bank of the U.S.
    Like any country the U.S. has made grave mistakes from Hawaii to Salem throughout history and that doesn’t mean that Controversial figures shouldn’t be eligible for the naming of a school or library. It usually depends who you ask.
    Personally I don’t think they should remove the name of Rober E. Lee (statues as well), But I do think we should not continue to name or build statues of Confederate war heroes any more. We will not have a purge of History. Yes we should be ashamed but we should never erase them of the crimes they have committed.

  9. I will support taking Lee’s name off building once we take MLK’s name off public property. If we are going to remove names because of moral shortcomings….where does it stop? When does did perfection become the standard for recognition?

    Every school will be named Jesus Christ.

    • Yes!

      Sherman was a ruthless bastard.

      His troops starved children, women, and slaves.

      And the rapes of both white and black Southerners is rarely discussed.

    • I was unaware that any area San Antonio school is named for Jefferson Davis. Is it also in NEISD? I would have thought that name would have been changed a long time ago since it’s been under attack nationally longer than Lee’s has.

      • No, Davis Middle School is in SAISD on the east side of the city. It’s full name is S.J.-Davis MS. the S.J. stands for Stonewall Jackson, so this school as actually named for TWO confederate “heroes”.

        • Stonewall Jackson Davis, better know as “Stonie” was born in Tyler, Texas in 1908, and received his BS degree in 1930 from Bishop College, his MBA degree in 1946 from University of Texas in Austin. His more than 30 years of service as a Black leader in San Antonio began in 1947 as a member of the St. Phillips’s College faculty. While there he served as Chairman of the business Department, 1947; Registration Manager, 1952; and Business Manager in 1955. He was elected to the Bexar-County Chapter of the American Red Cross board of Directors in 1967 and continued his service in various capacities over the years, including being named as the first Black chairperson of the Board of Directors in 1973.

  10. Who is so perfect that a school can be named for them or a monument placed? If we look at all these names, most would be taken down. Lee was not perfect,but he struggled with decision as he was a Virginian.

  11. Some of our presidents owned slaves. President Abraham Lincoln countenanced slavery in the states that remained in the union. Where does the purge end? Let’s not compromise substance–education and employment for starters–for symbolism. There’s something Stalinesque in this attempt to eradicate the past. What does the flag of the United States of America represent to the Native Americans? As bad as blacks were treated by the Confederacy, one could argue that the United States treated Native Americans worse. If I were a Native America, I would demand that no U.S. flag waved over my reservation. We have enough problems without succumbing to mass hysteria.

  12. I can’t believe how bad Texas education is in general history and basic critical thinking.

    The reason “heroes” of the Confederacy should not be honored is that they renounced their citizenship in the United States and fought a long bloody war against it. It has nothing to do with if they themselves did or did not own slaves, or if anyone in the United States owned slaves. Until the Emancipation Proclamation, it was legal. They were traitors and losers, not heroes. The difference with the US and native americans is that the native americans lost just as Spain, France, England, Russia, and Mexico lost claims to land that later became the United States. There is a clear distinction as to honor and disgrace. All but the Confederacy can be honored in some way. One might admire certain specific aspects of the Confederacy (I don’t know what), but basically it was a disgrace to the country and a failure And needs to be treated as such. Too bad people’s wounded pride gets in the way.

    • Steve,

      My “wounded pride” isn’t the problem here.

      You know, it’s too bad you didn’t live a century-and-a-half ago. You could have helped teach all those disgraceful traitors and losers a lesson or two!

      [Perhaps it’s time to coin a new term: “Confederaphobic”!]

  13. He was a traitor to the United States. We’re honoring a traitor. Put that in context and there is no other option but to ‘de-accession’ him from public life. How does he differ from Washington and Jefferson? Rather than tearing it down as he attempted, they birthed this nation, flaws and all. And rather than try to ameliorate the shortcomings of the slaveowner/founders, men like Lee further tried to institutionalize them for all time. And make no mistake–public schools, public statues and the like that continue to bear his name serve Confederate apologists as symbols to perpetuate their arcane point-of-view. I had the grave misfortune of attending a high school emblazoned with Confederate iconography and I saw how it served as an excuse for backward, racist attitudes. This country has to move on. Leave Lee in the history books, but take his name out of daily public life, along with other symbols of hate and treachery.

    • Okay, Alyssa; no apologetics.

      Let’s “move on” and purge our society of all its “symbols of hate and treachery.” Perhaps you can join with a few like-minded individuals (such as Steve Talbert) and develop a comprehensive list of all the public monuments requiring removal (or at least drastic alteration).

      I’m basically serious, too. If it has truly come to this, then who am I to oppose the inevitable? Besides, my children have been reared in a household whose members appreciate history – and through the years, they’ve developed a healthy, nuanced (dare I say “diverse”?) understanding of our shared past, so I’m not too worried about them.

      I’m far more concerned about those whose idea of reality revolves around what they possess, not how they act or what they think.

      After years of effort, we may finally achieve a noble goal: a nation clear of negative, non-inclusive “symbols.” Unfortunately, this nation will still be populated by those who view mammon as their god – the selfsame idol which drove Southerners to sacrifice everything in their effort to perpetuate slavery.

      And 150 years from now, people will be tearing down our monuments.

      Garl B. Latham

  14. While I in no way condone or defend Lee’s role in the Civil War, I found it ironic that Julian Castro, whose high school’s Thomas Jefferson namesake both owned and fathered slaves, would make such a public stand.

    • The issue isn’t slavery in general, the issue is Robert E Lee was a traitor to the US and gave up his citizenship specifically to defend the continuation of slavery at a specific time in history when it was no longer acceptable for decency and human dignity (no matter what Justice Thomas seems to think now about the matter – maybe he would have preferred black people staying in slavery and not now being able to marry his white wife).

      The issue is who makes a role model and who should be held up to honor. Certainly not Robert E Lee if you read about his personal life – regardless of what you may want to study for war strategy and tactics. No amount of wishful thinking can make him better than he was. He, and all other Confederates of rank, should be held up to discredit, dishonor, and ridicule. They lost. They were graciously allow to regain US citizenship after having brought a major amount of unnecessary death and destruction upon the country for their pride and wrong ideas of racial superiority. Particularly to the South, where most battles were fought.

      Similar to the marriage equality issue now, slavery at the time of the Civil War was defended as being supported and mandated by the Bible and “God’s Will”, and much Southern justification was religious in nature.

    • You are historically illiterate. I find it interesting that Lee’s history is continually added to, distorted, and revised to meet the latest liberal faux cause. The definition of a liberal is “one who is in a continuous state of rage.” To feed this, they always need to invent a new cause. Good luck there Stephen. What’s next, pot at communion?

    • You are historically illiterate. I find it interesting that Lee’s history is continually added to, distorted, and revised to meet the latest liberal faux cause. The definition of a liberal is “one who is in a continuous state of rage.” To feed this, they always need to invent a new cause. Good luck there Stephen. What’s next, pot at communion?

  15. To answer another question you posed, Adina de Zavala proposed that schools be named after Republic of Texas patriots, but that gradually fell by the wayside. We have schools named for women, primarily elementary schools.

    I disagree with the statue removal. The flag issue has been going on for years, and having been very involved in the search for the VMI Battle of New Market vets, I added flags to memorials on New Market Day on my website after the school told us not to. I’m not removing them. They are on the graves of men who fought valiantly as teenagers, for reasons that went beyond slavery in a time we can only understand if we had been there.

    • Remember that the Republic of Texas revolution against Mexico only occurred because Mexico was outlawing slavery just as England had recently done, and many of the Texas patriots were fighting only for this issue.

      The Republic of Texas is problematic for that reason, because it occurred in 1830s during the transition period when it was widely accepted as a fact of life – although many people thought it terrible – as people also going from serfdom, a form of slavery, to the concept of individual independence and tradesmanship starting with US revolution and moving into Europe and South America in late 1700s to early 1800s.

      By the late 1850s, it had reached a point where it was all or nothing, you couldn’t tolerate slavery if you objected, but you wouldn’t give them up if you approved. So the Civil War started and was supposed to have settled the question – although for many people in the South they refused to fully surrender. Hence the naming and honoring of veterans and veneration of the “Lost Cause”. Voting rights acts and integration in the 1950s and 60s just brought it up again.

      • Mr. Talbert,

        I hesitated to reply, fearing as I do that even a simple acknowledgement of your abhorrent comments might lend credence to them.

        Still, coming from someone who laments “how bad Texas education is in general history,” your remarks seem all the more fascinating.

        Simply put, had the Mexicans treated their own constitution with as much respect as the Texians did, it’s likely the war would have never been fought.

        The Mexicans allowed a tyrannical despot to gain control of their country. We resisted, with force – and won! Based upon your obsessive concern with the fact that the C.S.A. lost the War between the States (as if that in itself lends credence to your claims against it), it seems as though you should appreciate the Republic’s ultimate success.

        Instead, you cast aspersions upon its memory.

        Why am I not surprised?

        Garl B. Latham

  16. And what should we do about all of us who had ancestors who were slaveholders? The Reveleys had two plantations with slaves in Virginia, who gave themselves the last name of Revely after the War. They stayed on the plantations because the plantations were home to them. In my research I have met several of my Revely cousins. The Germans in Texas were supposed to be against the War, but if you look in probate records for wills and deeds, you will find slaves passed down. So I have slave history on both sides. Yikes.

  17. If you take the time to read up on the life of Robert E. Lee, you would realize that a public school would be fortunate to have any students emulate his moral constitution and sense of sacrifice and dignity. His example deserves reverence more than many of our Texan and U.S. historical heroes.

    • Well, Frank…

      Steve Talbert intimated he has studied the life of Robert E. Lee – and he disagrees with us.

      According to Mr. Talbert, since the overarching “issue is who makes a role model and who should be held up to honor” in these United States, we should all ignore General Lee’s “moral constitution and sense of sacrifice and dignity” (as you so kindly phrased it) and concentrate upon his various sins, as righteously judged by people living a century-and-a-half later (who apparently do not dwell in glass houses).

      Respect for anyone our society has deemed a reprobate – or worse – is unconscionable and no “amount of wishful thinking” can change that.

      ‘Tis sad, really.

      Take care,

  18. I think the point made above that historical figures are usually remembered for what their roles were in history, not so much about how they led their lives. I’m not defending defending anyone (Washington, Jefferson, etc.) for owning slaves, but I think all would agree that Lee’s main role in history was commanding the Confederate army. I have always admired Lee as a man; he wrote repeatedly how much he hated the war. He wasn’t a “git them yankees” kind of Southernor.
    If you want to rename Jefferson High School because Jefferson owned slaves, then how about investigating all the other American historical figures who have been commemorated to see if any of them ever did, said, or even thought anything referencing that women, minorities, or gay people did not deserve full rights?

  19. Garl B. Latham. Please consider writing a column for the Rivard Report. No one is speaking out as eloquently and in such a knowledgeable manner. I appreciate your comments and would like to see your approach to history discussed. I don’t see many with the stones to take on this issue with authority and balance. Your thoughts are spot on and need to be read and taken into consideration.

  20. In complete disagreement with the sentiment to remove historical markers and monuments, I offer this very brief letter written by Dwight D. Eisenhower, defending his display of a portrait of Robert E. Lee in his office, one of his four military role models. We are a hugely historical military city and this brings some big brass balance to a discussion sadly lacking in balance:

    “August 9, 1960

    Dear Dr. Scott:

    Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

    General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

    From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

    Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.


    Dwight D. Eisenhower”

    It occurs to me that a holistic approach to remembering war dead on either side of any conflict includes the entirety of their lives, the trajectory of their careers and is not isolated to a short period of their historical lives. Robert E. Lee’s exemplary life needs to be studied, not erased.

  21. Lincoln is perhaps the most overtly racist President we’ve ever had, who even sought Federal funding for shipping the nation’s Blacks to Africa. He publicly stated Blacks were inferior numerous times, and thus, he argued, could not peacefully coexist with Whites. He never recanted his position.

    Lee’s racist views, contrary to Lincoln, were far less prejudiced and kept mostly private. To my knowledge he never thought Whites and Blacks could not live peacefully together, even advocated Black recruitment into the Confederate army in exchange for freedom.

    The point I raise here is that if we must rename schools who bare names of racists, “Abraham Lincoln” should be the first on the list. It’s only fair, do that and at least it might have the semblance of honesty, instead of a political red herring.

  22. Robert E. Lee, regardless of recent criticism, is an icon of this nation. The country honors him each day with the Robert E. Lee National Memorial (at Arlington Cemetery), with Fort Lee (named after him) and with Lee Barracks at West Point (the United States Military Academy). From the 1950s to the 1980s, the USS Robert E. Lee ballistic submarine guarded our shores. Congress and presidents have praised him. This nation has issued coins and stamps bearing his image. Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) even praised him in poetry. No doubt many of these honors have been used, through the years, to “heal” this nation from the scars of a war that tore it to pieces. It’s sad to see that this national healing, taking several generations to accomplish, is now being so quickly eliminated — eliminated, not by reason, but by emotional, knee-jerk reactions caused by a few power groups and their willing friends in the media. WARNING: if the monuments of those whom some dislike are removed, the monuments of those whom others like (such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington) will be next. Mark my words.

  23. The rebel flag or the renaming of a school named after Robert E Lee… No matter which you support of do not support my question to you is this. It has been 150 years since the end of the civil war and if the ultimate purpose of making these changes is some form of unification of peoples and healing of wounds, what purpose do either of these changes serve? There are so many brilliant people out there of all races and nationalities who could better use their talents to unify humanity by focusing on solving “real” issues of the day like starvation, disease, war or a ten thousand more important problems. If you for one minute believe that changing the name of a school or removing a symbol for something that ended 150 years ago, that cannot EVER be changed, is more important than solving current issues of the day then this country is truly lost. If you truly want to unify or to make people forget about the past then use your minds to effect positive change in the world. Use the money being wasted on these initiatives to feed a 1000 families for a month or to explore new possibilities for curing cancer or thousands of other ailments that kill millions of people every year. When you truly and honestly think of the time, effort and money being spent simply to rename a school or stop people from flying a flag…. can you, when it is time for you to be judged, justify your support of these irrelevant petitions over what you could have done to help your fellow man? Leave the past in the past. You only have the power to change the future so why not focus on something that matters?

  24. YOU should research your subject more…how long was R.E.lee condemn after the war…. did he really have any slaves?…there is no fact on this… The south also repeal slavery… and that was only a small part issue that was beening fought about…why you do not talk of states rights…
    show anywhere it is written he did anything to slaves…unlike seven US Pres…..Texas Heros…and others….in fact it is well known fact Jim Bowie had his slave with him till he killed…

  25. The premise of your suggestions here is bad history, or micro-encapsulized history. Either way, it’s bad. Lee did not “betray” his country. If he had, he would have been hanged in 1865. Lee had a long and illustrious career serving the United States. Hero in the Mexican War, adjutant to Gen. Winfield Scott, commandant of West Point, to name the highlights. The year 1861 was less than one hundred years after 1775. In 1775, all we had were states. The several states were the highest aggrupation of civil authority in the whole land. Before the states, the colonies were the autonomous authority for the 100 years preceding 1775. It is no accident that the boundaries of the colonies and the boundaries of the 13 original states were, in the greatest part, coextensive. All this is to say that one’s allegiance, then, was to his state, to his colony, to his neighbors, to his extended family. That’s the way it had been for the preceding 241 years, since Plymouth Rock landed on the Pilgrims.
    Living in today’s world does not allow us to fathom the strength of the local bonds of yore. Jet travel, an interstate highway system, instant communications, breakdown of the nuclear family, the uneven spread of economic opportunity, all these today, and for some time past, have had the effect of breaking down people’s connection to any given state, or neighborhood, or family, for that matter. Thus, we are incapable of judging R.E. Lee’s decision to stand with his Virginia brethren. And, we should never judge Lee’s decision with so harsh a word as “betray.”

  26. Those who twist history for their purpose are probably just fine with any means to their desired ends. Utopia is whatever the liberal,white, guilt ridden, group think, robot says it is.

  27. First we need to get rid of Lee because of re-written accounts of his slave ownership. Then there were too many icons that held the same baggage, so Lee became a “traitor.” Then it was said that we needed to erase him to be “more inclusive.” How many people does that notion “exclude”? Now negativity about Lee seems to have morphed into “Southern Heritage.” If so, then we might have to examine the private lives of people like Sherman and Grant. That way we can have a real discussion over the merits of “Southern Heritage vs Northern Heritage.” How about we just leave it all in place as “American Heritage” before the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes can further divide and destroy the country for political gain.

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