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Debate Over Robert E. Lee at Washington and Lee U.

Debate Over Robert E. Lee at Washington and Lee U.
April 16, 2014

Black law students at Washington and Lee University, under a new group called "The Committee," have asked Washington and Lee University to take a series of steps to address "the racist and dishonorable conduct of Robert E. Lee." Lee served as president of the university after the Civil War, and has historically been revered at the institution. The Committee is calling on the university to observe the Martin Luther King Day as a formal day off, to stop allowing "neo-confederates to march on campus with Confederate flags on Lee-Jackson day," and to formally apologize "for the university's participation in chattel slavery" and "Robert E. Lee's participation in slavery."

A statement from the university noted that it does hold events to mark Martin Luther King Day every year, and that a decision to call off classes would have to be made by the faculty. The statement does not go into a detailed response on the other demands, but says that the university welcomes discussion on these issues and that "in terms of the other issues that the students have raised, we will give them all careful consideration."

In 2012, during an earlier debate about the Lee legacy at the university, the institution's president, Kenneth P. Ruscio, wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed in which he argued for a balanced view of the general. "Lee was a dignified, humble man. His sense of duty and honor would cause him to cringe if he ever became the subject of idolatry or the embodiment of myth," Ruscio wrote. "Blindly, superficially and reflexively rushing to his defense is no less an affront to history than blindly, superficially and reflexively attacking him. What he needs, what he deserves, and what his record can withstand is the honest appraisal of those who have not made up their minds, who can appreciate the man with all his complexities and contradictions. History is indeed not kind enough to present us with simple morality tales."

 

 

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