“Students object to Confederate flags on campus named for Robert E. Lee”
That is the headline of the Associated Press’ April 18 news report, which the Washington Post headlined:
“Black students press university officials to examine past.”
The Associated Press reported the following:
“A group of law students at Washington and Lee University is demanding the school banish the Confederate flag from its Lexington campus and repudiate one of its namesakes, Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“The students also want the private liberal arts college to end the practice of allowing ‘neo-Confederates’ to march on campus with battle flags during Lee-Jackson day, a Virginia state holiday that falls on the Friday before Martin Luther King Day.
“The students, known collectively as The Committee, vowed civil disobedience if their demands are not met by Sept. 1. In a letter this month to the university’s Board of Trustees, The Committee said it decided to act out of ‘alienation and discomfort’ with the trappings of the Confederacy on campus.
“They include the array of eight Confederate battle flags in the Lee Chapel, where the entire Lee family is buried. …
“In a letter released Wednesday to the W&L community, President Kenneth P. Ruscio wrote that university officials ‘take these students’ concerns seriously’ and that they would be addressed. He asked provost Daniel Wubah to meet with the students. Through a spokesman, he declined a request Thursday for an interview with the Associated Press. …
“Brandon Dorsey is a commander with the Lexington brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He participated in the Lee-Jackson march on the W&L campus. He blamed the protests on campus on a small group of activists.
“‘I think the whole think is a bunch of tripe,’ Mr. Dorsey said. ‘I think the university will have a lot of angry alumni on their campus if they agree to those demands.’”
I am led to wonder if any of these black militants at Washington and Lee University are aware of the following history:
Robert E. Lee’s Dec. 27, 1856, letter to his wife:
“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.”
When his father-in-law died, Lee took over the management of the plantation his wife had inherited and immediately began freeing the 63 slaves. By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, every slave in Lee’s charge had been freed.
That was by contrast to Mrs. Ulysses Grant, who was a slave owner in 1864 while her husband had been one of the Union generals who owned slaves – his being owned before the Civil War.
There is also the question as to why these angry students of Washington and Lee opted to attack the memory of Lee and not the memory of George Washington, father of our country.
George Washington became a slave owner at age 11, when his father died and left him the 280-acre farm near Fredericksburg, Va., and 10 slaves. As a young adult, Washington purchased at least eight slaves.
In 1759, when he married Martha Dandridge Custis, her share of the Custis estate brought another 84 slaves to Mount Vernon. In the 16 years between his marriage and the beginning of the American Revolution, he purchased 40 additional slaves.
Toward the end of his life, Gen. and President Washington said:
“The unfortunate condition of the persons whose labor in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. …”
Over the course of Washington’s life, he gradually changed from a young man who accepted slavery as a matter of course, into a person who decided never again to buy or sell another slave, and held hopes for the eventual abolition of the institution.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon also reports:
“During the war, his views on slavery were radically altered. Within three years of the start of the war, Washington, who was then 46 years old and had been a slave owner for 35 years, confided to a cousin that he ‘longed every day more and more to get clear of the ownership of slaves.’
“He also witnessed black soldiers in action, fighting bravely in the Continental Army. Within seven months of taking command of the Army, Washington approved the enlistment of free black soldiers, which he and the other general officers had originally opposed.”
In his will, written several months before his death in December 1799, Washington left directions for the emancipation after Martha Washington’s death of all the slaves who belonged to him.
In 1799, Mount Vernon had 318 slaves.
Media wishing to interview Les Kinsolving, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.