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July 09, 2014

Politically Correct Travesty At Burial Place Of Robert E. Lee

This one troubles me deeply, both as an alum of Washington & Lee University (as well as another university which has deep ties to Abraham Lincoln) and as a student of history.

Washington and Lee University expressed regret Tuesday for the school’s past ownership of slaves and promised to remove Confederate flags from the main chamber of its Lee Chapel after a group of black students protested that the historic Virginia school was unwelcoming to minorities.

President Kenneth P. Ruscio’s announcement was a surprising move for the small, private liberal arts college in Lexington, which has long celebrated its Southern heritage. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee served as the university’s president after the Civil War, his crypt is beneath the chapel, and the school has gingerly addressed its ties to the Confederacy and its having profited from the possession and sale of slaves.

The Confederate banners — battle flags that Lee’s army flew as it fought Union forces — have adorned the campus chapel that bears Lee’s name since 1930, and university officials said they were a nod to history and not a message intended to offend anyone. Others, however, see the flags as hate symbols representative of slavery, racism and grievous times in the nation’s history.

Let's set aside the silliness of apologizing for historical misdeeds committed by and against those who are long dead and the notion that there need be some sort of reparation for them. Nothing in this apology undoes the reality of the harm caused by slavery. But if an expression of regret soothes some troubled souls, so be it -- it is not a big deal.

No, it is the removal of the battle flags that is troubling to me. The flags are next to a statue of the general in a building named for him. General Lee and his family are buried in the crypt below -- which is a few feet from the office Lee used while he served as college president after the war (faithfully preserved as he left it on the day he fell victim to his final illness) and the museum that is devoted to the school and the school and the Lee family. Indeed, the statue of Lee that the flags surrounded is one that depicts wearing his uniform, asleep as if in a tent on one of the many battlefields of the Civil War. The flags are nothing if not appropriate there, as artifacts related to the lifetime of the man who saved a failing school from certain bankruptcy and who along with the son who succeeded him as college president (himself a former Confederate general) turned the school into one of the top educational institutions in the country. They are contextually correct.

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I joined the military in 1964, the time and the era are significant to the point. My first assignment was to Mississippi and two busses carrying close to 100 of us made the trip from San Antonio to Biloxi Ms. The trip was an eye opener and the first time I ever saw a gas station with three restrooms (women, men, blacks). Over the years I spent in the military I knew many guys born and raised in the South and talked about racism/discrimination. What suprised me was that they weren't racist even though they used the "N" word. Is that possible you ask? Well in 1964 it was, the "N" word was just another word on par with telling a Pollock joke. It could be uttered in conversation without any hate or judgement just as I can use the word "abortion" today without having any desire to go out and kill a baby. What I found was without exception these Southern "gold ol Boys" got along great with the black guys in the service and civilian. For me coming from a North Eastern city with few blacks it was awkward to just go up to a black man and start a conversation. Anyway, my point is that without exception all of the white guys I knew from the South considered the Civil War to have been a war over states rights and they considered the confederate flag to be a symbol of their "Southerness" and not about the war per se and certainly not about some white power or pro slavery ideal. I am aware that some have used the Confederate flag to tie to their group which had racist views. Most unfortunate. I assume like the black power hand salute someone using that today doesn't intend to go hunting whites in the street to kill them but indeed that is it's history. I assume the confederate flag will/must be purged from society while other symbols of racism such as blacks using the "N" word or a black power salute will be ignored. Just part of the very unequal system of enforcing "equality".

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