A Student of History

January 19, 2007

Robert E. Lee’s 200th Birthday


Tomorrow is Robert E. Lee‘s 200th birthday.  There are to be a number of events across the commonwealth to recognize this event, but one which caught my eye is quite different.

The Independent Media Center‘s website contains a call by the Virginia Anti-War Network to protest the observation of Lee‘s birthday last weekend by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Richmond.  The Independent Media Center is “a global network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth. We are motivated by a love and inspiration for people who work for a better world despite corporate media’s distortions and unwillingness to cover efforts to develop an egalitarian and sustainable society.”  There’s no indication on the site why this media group is in favor of this, which I find curious.  The IMC website is very slow, so I gave up trying to navigate around it to get more info on this.

I then went to the Virginia Anti-War Network website, and found a statement about the protest–and a long on-line article about why this Anti-War group has decided to target a general from a war fought 140 years ago.  Here is a sample of what is there:

Robert Edward Lee — the Virginian who owned and exploited Black people; helped steal half of Mexico during the U.S.-Mexican War; led the attack on abolitionist hero John Brown at Harper’s Ferry; deserted the Union Army; took up arms against the country he had sworn to defend in order to preserve the immensely profitable system of chattel slavery; and lost the Civil War by getting his reactionary butt decisively kicked by a force that included 200,000 armed people of African descent — was born on Jan. 19, 1807, in Stratford, Va. 

That means that 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of Lee’s birth. And that means that Virginia can expect to see a wide assortment of neo-Confederate yahoos coming out to march around Lee statues, practice the Rebel Yell and wave the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, while piously insisting that they are simply celebrating “heritage, not hate.” But what is more disturbing and outrageous is that the state government of Virginia is using our hard-earned tax dollars to promote the myth that Lee was some kind of hero, a saintly role model for all Virginians – including our school children.

The article (they call its “an expose”) goes on to assure us that “We are also working with civil rights, anti-war and other progressive forces to oppose this official reactionary, pro-Lee, pro-Confederate, pro-white-supremacist campaign.”  They are upset that the state created a Lee Memorial Commission of the Commonwealth in 2005, which is of course bent on celebrating the general.  Others support the protest: NAACP executive director King Salim Khalfani doesn’t have a problem with those who mark Lee‘s 200th birthday “as long as public dollars aren’t used for promoting the Lost Cause.”

In a related story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a state delegate is under fire for telling the local NAACP to “get over it,” when it comes to slavery.  The article states that assemblyman said “asking the state to apologize for slavery is akin to asking Jews to apologize for killing Christ.”  During the House floor session on Tuesday, two black lawmakers and a Jewish delegate took offense at published comments made by Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr., R-Hanover, about a proposed state apology for slavery.  In an earlier article, we learn about this movement for an official state apology: 

Advocates of reconciliation also are preparing a resolution expressing contrition for the treatment of American Indians.  Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, and Del. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said at a news conference yesterday that they are not seeking reparations for past mistreatment. They said they thought the observance of the first permanent English settlement at
Jamestown in the New World would make an appropriate time for an apology.  The slavery-apology resolution has been introduced. The resolution dealing with American Indians will be introduced after consulting with American Indian leaders in Virginia, McEachin said.

On a less heated note….At the blog “Civil War Memory” there’s also some info on REL’s 200th, so be sure to check that out too.  And, as reported here,

History buffs and Confederate enthusiasts are marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Southern icon that many still revere as a brilliant military strategist and a Virginia gentleman nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War.Several events were planned Friday and through the weekend at key Lee sites, including

Washington & Lee University
, Lee‘s birthplace at Stratford Hall Plantation, and in Richmond, the former Confederate capital. Some events already have taken place, and others are planned in the upcoming months. Stratford Hall will feature a special “Lee pilgrimage” and a historic interpreter portraying Lee‘s decision to resign from the U.S. Army upon the secession of Virginia from the Union. Cannon artillery salutes will be held, and visitors can take candlelight tours of the Lee family’s home. Saturday’s events feature “Lee for Children” tours that allow youngsters to hunt for key items that figured into Lee‘s childhood, and an opportunity to have their photos taken with “
General Lee.”The Museum of the Confederacy is showcasing an oil painting of Lee that was last displayed publicly in 1868 in Paris. The gilt-framed oil painting is on loan from a Richmond-area man who purchased it at an estate sale, and more than 200 limited-edition prints have been sold over the last few weeks to help the struggling museum erase its deficit. 


  1. My kin was a good and honest christian man and did his duty as he saw fit. wish we would all take a page from my kin. I view robert e lee as a good army man and a good family man and very proud to live in the USA. lets all hope we can keep this USA going another 200 years. william bert lee,jr

    Comment by william bert lee,jr — June 16, 2007 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

    • Hello, My name is William Bert Lee, Jr and I am 42 years of age. I was born in Kansas and at the age of 4 my parents divorced and I only saw my father twice since then. He passed away last year and since then many of his siblings have been writing to me. They all tell me that I am a decendant of Gen Robert E. Lee. One brother is named Robert E. Lee as is his son and grandson. I believe too that my praternal grandfather was also a Robert Lee. They tell me that there will always be a Robert in the family in honor of the Gen.
      How can I truly find out if in fact I am truly a decendant?

      Thank You,

      William Bert Lee, Jr

      Comment by William Bert Lee, Jr — August 26, 2009 @ 10:40 am | Reply

      • Hello,
        My name too is William Bert Lee, Jr. My birth father passed away last year, 2008. Since then his family has contacted me and has since told me that I am a relative of the General Robert E. Lee. They all have stories and it appears that my uncle is name Robert E. Lee and the same as my birth grandfather. Also my uncle’s son and grandson. They tell me there is a Robert E. Lee name in each generation. Now I know this doesn’t mean anything but I am wondering how I can find out if I am a relative of yours and the General’s.
        My last name of Lee comes from the state of Kansas. I only want to know for the sake of my sons.

        Thank You,

        William Bert Lee, Jr

        Comment by William Bert Lee, Jr — December 13, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  2. My other kin george washington was a good and able man ,robert e lee helped to build this USA, so lets keep it going another 200 yrs. william bert lee,jr

    Comment by william bert lee,jr — June 16, 2007 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  3. Robert E. Lee helped build this country!?!? He led the principle army hell bent on destroying the union. That hardly classifies as “building” the country. When he went back on his oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States, he wasn’t doing much building.

    Comment by John Maass — June 16, 2007 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

  4. Lee did join in the unwarranted illeagal invasion of Mexico (read Iraq)but as he was in the army I suppose he was beyond politics. To decide history with hindsight in the present is the one thing a proffesional historian or journalist should never do.Good blog anyway

    Comment by gary — March 16, 2009 @ 5:15 am | Reply

  5. nobody is deciding history with hindsight in the present here.

    Comment by John Maass — March 16, 2009 @ 5:43 am | Reply

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