A Lee Who Supports W&L’s Decision to Remove Confederate Flags

Update: The Virginia Flaggers never fail to disappoint. Their response to this story is oh so predictable. And they wonder why no one takes them seriously.

In his convocation address yesterday at Washington & Lee University, President Ken Ruscio reflected on his decision to remove Confederate flags from inside Lee Chapel. At one point Ruscio shared a letter he received from an Alumnus of the Class of 1949.

I have been following the issues…. I write to offer my unqualified endorsement of your response to those issues — especially your forceful support of my great-grandfather’s presidency of Washington College and your plans for the Confederate battle flags…

I believe that the five years he spent as Washington College’s president were as important to him as they were to the college. His passion for using his position there to help heal the wounds of war was apparent through both his words and deeds.

Based on everything I have heard or read, it is clear to me that President Lee would wholeheartedly support your goals of making Washington and Lee a welcoming environment for all students who choose to come there today. As a proud alumnus, I, too, support those goals.

In my view, removing the flags from the statuary chamber is overdue…. At the same time, we should not simply ignore the flags and their undeniable historical significance. Your plan of returning the actual battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum is the ideal way to study and care for these important artifacts.

I am proud of my alma mater. I am certain that my great-grandfather would be proud of the institution he once led. And I know he would appreciate the civil manner in which you have approached what must be emotional discussions. But most important of all, I trust that today’s students will be reminded of just how important the University’s core values are. In my opinion, the qualities of honor, responsibility, civility, service and leadership that Washington and Lee instills in each generation of students are just as important as the exceptional education it provides.

Please know that you have my full support and my best wishes.

That alumnus just happens to be Robert E. Lee IV.

Beyond the protests of the local SCV and the Virginia Flaggers both students and alumni appear, with few exceptions, to have accepted the president’s decision. W&L student body president Lucy Wade said:

I was glad he brought it up. I think a lot of people are afraid that people push away criticism, but I don’t think he does that. I think there are still things that need to be addressed. He’s facing it head-on.

No doubt their position will look even more ridiculous once the school begins displaying real Confederate flags in the museum section of the chapel.

It’s unclear how the SCV and the Flaggers will spin the above letter, but as we’ve seen in the past their list of scalawags knows no boundaries. Welcome home, Mr. Lee.

27 comments… add one
  • Shannon Pritchard Oct 9, 2014 @ 4:31

    I just read the many posts above and was somewhat astounded by the lack of historical knowledge on display and even more astounded by the arrogant ‘know it all” attitude of those who are obviously virtually illiterate when it comes to Civil War history.
    I then went to the “my book” link and nearly fell out of my seat. In reading the synopsis of Kevin Levin’s book, I found inaccuracy after inaccuracy. If the synopsis is so historically incorrect, the book must be pure fiction.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 9, 2014 @ 5:12

      And with nothing more to offer I guess you expect us to consider you to be a “know it all.” Ah yes, hypocrisy at its finest. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Billy Bearden Sep 11, 2014 @ 19:25

    I would offer the following:
    1) Mr. Lee IV , as a student, was most likely completely unaware or the 1930 agreement between the UDC, CMLS, and WLU Admin. creating the “Memorial to General Robert E Lee”

    2) Mr. Lee IV, as a student of WLU, most likely did not say a word
    against the “Memorial to General Robert E Lee”

    3) Mr. Lee IV, as an alumni and businessman, is most likely unaware of the 1997 agreement between WLU President Elrod and MoC Director Robin Reed regarding care and enhancement of the “Memorial to General Robert E Lee”

    4) Mr. Lee IV, states incorrectly ” Your plan of returning the actual battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum is the ideal way to study and care for these important artifacts. ” The return of the flags was not President Ruscio’s idea – that was the plan in the 1997 agreement – but the 97 agreement calls for “..2, possibly 3…” of the war era flags to go into the Museum.

    The reproduction flags were simply ‘place holders’ to maintain the integrity of the “Memorial to General Robert E Lee” until the restored war era flags returned. There was no call in the 1930 nor 1997 agreements to remove from display the flags as was done by President Ruscio. Both 1930 / 1997 agreements use the term “Lee Chapel” numerous times.

    Mr. Lee IV is obviously unaware of a great many details, and President Ruscio’s actions of capitulation and violations of 84 years of legal agreements and promises stink to high heaven.
    I admire Mr. Lee IV for expressing an opinion, albeit not based in historical fact.

    What is more telling is that no further Lee descendants offered an opinion.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 12, 2014 @ 1:19

      How is any of this relevant to Mr. Lee’s position in 2014? What matters is he supports the decision to remove the flags for the reasons expressed by the president. Apparently, his reasoning doesn’t fit into your preferred view of the past. Like the president said in his address, this doesn’t concern you.

    • Betty Giragosian Sep 12, 2014 @ 1:39

      The original battle flags were removed because of their very worn condition. They belonged to the Museum of the Confederacy. W and L paid for their conservation. There never was a plan for them to be returned and hung in the Chapel. A conserved flag of the age would never again be exposed to further wear. Instead, the original flags will be enclosed in climate controlled frames. This will be on a rotating basis, each on view for one month. This will grant them further protection, in addition to having other original flags from the area on display


      • Kevin Levin Sep 12, 2014 @ 3:00

        No doubt, Billy will be first in line to pay his respects to the real deal once they are on display or he will continue to preach as if he alone has a monopoly on what it means to commemorate and remember the past.

    • Jimmy Dick Sep 12, 2014 @ 7:28

      Billy, once again you post your opinion and consider it the law. Betty knows more about this event than you do and refuted your statements. Once again, you speak for yourself and nobody else. You are not a member of the Lee family. Get this through your head. You are not entitled to speak for the Lee family in any way at all. Mr. Lee knows far more about the situation than you do (which of course is not surprising) and knows more about how his ancestor viewed things than you ever will (which is mostly due to the fact you believe in the Lost Cause and the Loch Ness Monster, two things which are pure myth).

      One day when you grow up and begin to use critical thinking skills you might understand this, but until then you will just have to continue to whine uselessly.

  • Sandi Saunders Sep 11, 2014 @ 15:24

    I believe that Robert E. Lee was an inherently moral and complicated man living in a suddenly confusing and unreasonable maelstrom. I do not believe that even his belief in white supremacy made him a supporter of slavery and I have never found anything to suggest he was a supporter of secession.

    The slave economy caused atrocity and idiocy that was unbecoming of any nation. But only the Confederacy enshrined it as a Constitutional principle and “cornerstone”. I pray we will never see such a revolt again. The decency of his great grandson is as apparent as the malevolent and wrong-headed notions of those who claim to honor General Lee and the Confederate soldiers as if that was all they ever were. The rest of us were able to make a distinction long ago that they never will as it destroys their glass house.

    • msb Sep 12, 2014 @ 0:06

      I agree that Lee was in many ways a great man. And I admire the statement of his descendant, though I’m glad I don’t have a name with so much historical baggage. (Harper Lee (no relative) wrote that naming people after Confederate generals led to a lot of slow, steady drinkers.

      But I think I’d certainly class Robert E. Lee as a supporter of slavery because he (a) owned slaves and (b) went to war for a government predicated on defending and promoting slavery.

      I agree with you and other commenters, however, that, when the war was lost, he moved on.

  • Betty Giragosian Sep 11, 2014 @ 8:54

    Mr Lee’s letter is a true reflection of General Lee’s opinion. There are numerous examples that support this.

    • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 10:33

      One of General Lee’s limitations was having a towering thundercloud of a temper. He recognized this in himself, and worked hard all his life to overcome it, to keep it always in check — and he was almost always successful in doing so. It’s hard to imagine him having any truck with shouty posturing of the sort the Flaggers engage in as a matter of course.

  • Josh Chambermaid Sep 11, 2014 @ 8:10

    Class of ’49?

    Wouldn’t that make him a member of what so many of your fans commenting on this subject in a recent post disparagingly called the “massive resistance” generation?

    • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 8:57

      Yes, but it would also make him a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse, ’48). People are funny like that.

      • Josh Chambermaid Sep 11, 2014 @ 10:31

        True, but the folks at this website first sarcastically tarred (and labeled by implication) white southerners approximating his age as members of the “massive resistance” generation. While lurking around here for a while w/o participating, I’ve witnessed abundant and unmerited labeling of those with a minority opinion.

        The result is most everyone here thinks alike and end -up talking to themselves in isolation, much like the groups they ridicule.

        The practice is no better here than over there.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 11, 2014 @ 11:38

          True, but the folks at this website first sarcastically tarred (and labeled by implication) white southerners approximating his age as members of the “massive resistance” generation.

          I did no such thing. What I did was note how the two letters reflect certain elements of the massive position position. I never suggested that everyone alive at that time subscribed to such a position.

          The result is most everyone here thinks alike and end -up talking to themselves in isolation, much like the groups they ridicule.

          You obviously have not spent enough time on this site.

        • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 11:40

          I’m sure Kevin would not have made the “massive resistance generation” observation if those letters had not reflected exactly that sort of attitude. I don’t think he’s wrong in his assessment of their position, which does appear to reflect widely-held attitudes of the Citizens’ Council types.

          • Josh Chambermaid Sep 11, 2014 @ 12:32

            Okay, I see.

            Mr. Levin say ” he did no such thing” and you say he did but was justified. You can’t both be correct. But more importantly you both demonstrate that the regulars around here will never admit to behaving just as narrow minded as those they ridicule.

            • Kevin Levin Sep 11, 2014 @ 12:42

              Look, I appreciate your taking the time to comment, but if you have nothing to say in response to this post I suggest you move along. What I denied doing was suggesting that every white southerner alive at that time resisted civil rights. That’s what YOU suggested.

            • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 12:42

              I had wondered what became of Reed/Jennifer Cotton/Mr. History/Vanessa/Carmichael lately.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 11, 2014 @ 13:00

                Thanks. Need to do a better job of checking IP addresses.

              • Jimmy Dick Sep 11, 2014 @ 13:02

                You mean The Waterboy!

  • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 5:35

    In the linked article, the local SCV leader, Brandon Dorsey, is quoted as saying,

    “Just because you have a family member that takes a position doesn’t mean that has any reflection on the father or grandfather’s views,” Dorsey said. “It’s neat that he’s a descendant, but he didn’t know Robert E. Lee.”

    But Dorsey and the Virginia Flaggers did?

    Dorsey’s quote is an amazing statement, given that everything the SCV and other “heritage” groups do is predicated on their assumption that they know what their ancestors believed and wanted. It’s really breathtaking in its fundamental un-self-awareness.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 11, 2014 @ 5:44

      Exactly. Well, at least he didn’t simply call him a scalawag.

    • Jimmy Dick Sep 11, 2014 @ 6:36

      I think it is indicative of the SCV’s unwillingness to accept reality. I should clarify and say some of the SCV because not all of them are delusional. The flaggers are completely delusional, but that’s been an established fact for a long time. The evidence shows us what Robert E. Lee thought of the CBF because he didn’t have them at the school during his tenure as president. He put the war behind him and moved on while advising others to do the same. The SCV, the flaggers, and other neo-confederate types would do well to emulate him.

      If they truly want to honor Robert E. Lee they should do as he suggested. The fact that they don’t shows they really have a different agenda involved. It is not Robert E. Lee’s agenda or ideology, but one of their own manufacture which really has nothing to do with the Civil War or the confederacy.

      • Andy Hall Sep 11, 2014 @ 8:43

        “I think it is indicative of the SCV’s unwillingness to accept reality.”

        Let me expand on that a little. One thing you’ve probably noticed is that heritage fights of this sort almost invariably zero in on specific individuals as the culprits. In this case it’s President Ruscio. At the MoC, it’s Waite Rawls and (more recently) Christy Coleman, and the VFMA it’s Alex Nyerges, in Lexington it was Mimi Elrod, and so on — it’s always a narrative about specific, evil people with intent to destroy Confederate heritage, commit cultural genocide, etc.

        It’s true that these people are the ones who have been in positions of authority when they’ve made decisions that are unpopular with the heritage crowd. But there’s absolutely no sense among the heritage folks that much larger, societal and cultural forces are involved, that would be quite likely to result in the same outcome. Ruscio, Rawls, Nyegeres and the rest live and function in the real world, trying to steer their institutions through daily challenges that the Flaggers don’t even begin to understand. They don’t have the luxury of being intransigent on a single, contentious issue, any more than Dorsey or Hathaway have the knowledge and skill effectively to run a university or a municipal government.

        So, they angrily fluff their base (“are you mad enough yet?”), while Ken Ruscio goes about the daily business of running a university, and Alex Nyerges works with his curators to figure out next year’s exhibit schedule in Richmond.

        Life goes on.

        • Jimmy Dick Sep 11, 2014 @ 9:11

          “But there’s absolutely no sense among the heritage folks that much larger, societal and cultural forces are involved, that would be quite likely to result in the same outcome.”

          I think that reflects their level of higher order thinking which is on the rather low scale. The mere concept of historical analysis escapes their ability because to use a technique which requires interpretations to be based upon factual evidence and not beliefs undermines their sense of being in the world. The heritage crowd does not accept anything that challenges their beliefs. As a result, they cannot use historical analysis, critical thinking skills, or an inquiry based pedagogy. That is why they attack individuals and use the same rhetoric over and over again.

          We’ve seen this on multiple blogs by individuals who repeat the same things, get crushed by the facts, refuse to accept reality, and restate their opinion again. They’re like punching dummies for historians. Hardly any of them have a college degree and none of them have degrees in history. Yet, they think they know history but object when they have to use context. That right there shows their failure to understand and use historical analysis.

  • Trueism Sep 11, 2014 @ 5:09

    I am sure that the malcontents wil just call him a “carpetbagger” “scalawag” or some other contemptuous term.

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