Robert E. Lee: Balancing Rhetoric with Facts

By Sheila R. Randolph, guest contributor.

(The other day I posted the following message on the Mayor of New Orleans Facebook page.)

I didn’t know where else to post this message, so I apologize in advance if this is the wrong forum.

You asked, in essence,
“…what would you say to that African American 5th grader about the statue of Robert E. Lee?”

Well, I was a little African American girl growing up in the South (but back then I was a “Negro”), so I know what I would tell her.

I would tell her that the statue wasn’t erected by the Klan, but by grieving mothers and daughters and widows who saved their pennies and held fund raisers so that they could have those statues and monuments erected.

I would tell her about the man who was respected by his friends and by his enemies, and who thought he was fighting to protect his beloved State of Virginia.

A man who before the Civil War, took communion with slaves, and after the war, took communion with Freedmen — at a time when churches were segregated and most white people would be appalled at the idea of taking communion with a Negro.

I would tell her about the man who urged his fellow Confederates to embrace the Union after the war.

I would tell her about the man who became a college president and saved Washington College from financial ruin.

I would also tell her the high regard the African Americans of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s held for Robert E. Lee and his family.

I would tell her about the challenge to the Jim Crow law that Lee’s daughter struck in 1902.

That’s what I would tell her if she asked about the statue of Robert E. Lee, but I won’t have the chance to tell her, because the statue isn’t there for her to ask.

~ Sheila R. Randolph


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