The Confederate Flag—What Would Robert E. Lee Have to Say?

_RELEarlier today the body of slain minister and North Carolina state senator, Clementa Pinckney, was taken by horse drawn carriage to the North Carolina state house where he will lie in state for the remainder of today. Senator Pinckney’s body was taken from a horse drawn carriage and then moved inside the state house right under a confederate flag flying at full staff. South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, issued a press release saying that she did not have the authority to order the removal or lowering of the flag during the ceremonial proceedings for Senator Pinckney.

And so we now prepare for the “great debate” in South Carolina over removing the flag from a monument on the capitol grounds. We will now prepare for the “great debate” over whether the confederate flag should be removed for a host of reasons. I look forward to hearing what the various South Carolina politicians have to say. I look forward to hearing how the “people’s representatives” of the South Carolina will couch their words to urge either the removal of the flag or to “let it fly.” I wonder how many will study the life of Robert E. Lee before they take a position. I strongly urge them to do so.

Robert E. Lee’s became the general in charge of the confederate forces during the Civil War. He denounced the secessionist as betraying the ideal of the founding fathers. He had distinguished himself in the Mexican American War of 1846. Lee became general in charge of the Confederacy in 1865 but by April of that same year he had surrendered at the Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War. Robert E. Lee’s life should be required reading for all Americans right now. I think Lee would have plenty to say about the confederate flag. I say this even though Robert E. Lee chose to fight for his native state Virginia and to take up the cause of the seceded confederacy over joining the Union forces as the Civil War began. Lee went into battle for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia a “conflicted man.” Lee’s own family lineage had exposed him to wealth, privilege, education at West Point, and slave ownership from his father in law’s estate. Historians differ over whether Lee physically abused slaves who were to be emancipated under his father-in-in law’s will.

All over America, including right here in Amarillo, monuments and schools are named for Robert E. Lee. I wonder what was in the minds of those who chose to bestow Robert E. Lee’s name Amarillo’s elementary school on the north side of town. I wonder if they chose to name the school “Robert E. Lee Elementary” because Lee fought for the Confederacy. I wonder if they considered that Lee lost the war and that the school is named for a defeated war commander. Or was there some other “thinking” going on behind naming an elementary school after Robert E. Lee? How did Americans come to view Lee in a positive light even though he surrendered to Union forces, effectively admitting defeat? How was Lee’s stature resurrected such that his failures as a Confederate forces military leader and strategist were “forgiven?” Did his later life as president of Washington College help to overshadow his “losing” command of confederate forces? How did so many monuments come to be erected all over America depicting Lee and his horse Traveller? Why has Lee’s image appeared on U. S. postage stamps at least four times? Did Americans come to have warm feeling about Lee because he was buried without his shoes because his casket was too short for his stature? How many Americans know that Robert E. Lee said this: “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.” Or should we remember that Robert E. Lee also said this: “I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them [African Americans]. … I think that everyone there would be willing to aid it.” Still, I wonder what Robert E. Lee would have to say about the current confederate flag as a symbol of heritage or hate—and possibly both? What would “new southerners” want him to say?

Copyright 2015 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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