Consider, carefully, the statement below.
In the small town where I live and grew up, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy didn’t need a special name — it was the education we all received. We were taught that during the Civil War, the Confederate States of America had just motive. Perhaps you’ve heard the mantra: “The Civil War was fought for states’ rights.” It was enshrined in monuments across the country after the war ended.
The catch is that there’s more to that sentence, something we southerners are never taught: The Civil War was fought for states’ rights to enslave African people in the United States of America.
Wait a minute. Did we just hear that from a native of the South?
Many of us were never taught the rest of the sentence and are forced to discover it for ourselves, but my reality is unique amid the landscape of southern identity. My name is Robert W. Lee: I’m a Christian pastor, a husband, a friend, a son, a brother. But you undoubtedly realize that I bear the name of the icon of the Southern understanding of the world, and I also bear his heritage.
As a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s family, I have borne the weight and responsibility of that lineage. Even though my parents never pushed it or subscribed to all that it could entail, my own upbringing oozed with Southern pride. I had a black nanny — even in the 1990s — and a Confederate flag that hung in my bedroom until middle school. I believed that in commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was a Christian man with the best of intentions.
But today I am proud to be part of a new era for the South and the country. And on Thursday, I was present with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) as they announced the intent of the commonwealth to remove the iconic statue of Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
I am fully aware that the broken, racist system we have built on the Lost Cause is far larger than a single statue, but the statue of my ancestor has stood for years in Richmond as an idol of this white supremacist mind-set. The statue is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.
Every time I’ve written about the need to remove the glut of Confederate statues, icons and flags, someone has shouted back that the war was all about states rights and not about slavery.
That claim stinks as much as a pile of excrement dropped by Lee’s horse.
Me Lee, in a column in Sunday’s Washington Post, goes on:
Others of us have worked for generations to escape the scorn my family — and the Lost Cause mythology — has brought on upon the nation. And for many of us, removing the statue of Lee was a culmination of years of work. For me, this symbolic gesture stands at the start of a new way of life in the South, a new cause that could replace the Lost Cause mentality if we get this right.
The new cause of this country is about justice, equality, peace and concord. We can and must be different. Now is the time to make this new cause the hope of this upcoming generation of activists. We can give the gift of Southern hospitality and community instead of passing on a pseudo-historical and oppressive understanding of the world.
Rev. Lee was pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem but stepped down from the pulpit in 2017 after the church’s parishioners didn’t like his introduction of Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman murdered by a white supremacist during the demonstrations in Charlottesville in 2017 over removal of Confederate monuments, including a statue of Robert E. Lee.
On MTV’s Video Music Awards show, Rev. Lee said:
“My name is Robert Lee IV; I am a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville. We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate. As a pastor it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin. Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January and especially Heather Heyer who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”
Want to piss off many of the so-called “God-fearing” folks? Say something nice about Black Lives Matter. BLM makes white evangelicals spit and sputter in disdain, which is another good reason to like them.
Rev. Rob Lee is now pastor of Unifour Church in Newton, NC. On its website, the church notes: Unifour Church is a hospitable community of Christians in Newton, North Carolina committed to the idea that love made evident in Jesus Christ is vast and broad. Unifour Church creates a space for love by being an open and affirming worshiping body that is inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender, racial, and ethnic identities. All are welcome, no matter your story.
Thank you, Rev. Lee. This son of the South salutes you. You are a far better man than your ancestor.