My father, a history buff and Civil War reenactor, had a piece published in The Washington Post on Sunday and just didn't think to mention it for four days -- classic.
My father has spent much of his life researching the history of the Confederacy and the contributions of Robert E. Lee -- and then he has spent much of the past few days having honest conversations with the people around him, and has landed somewhere new. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me how to engage with people in constructive dialogues, and always keep my own social constructs under a critical lens. I value his lens here. I think it will be helpful for anyone who is trying to navigate this whole Confederate monument deal. This is not my arena of expertise, so I yield to him; feel free to share and respond.
Here is his statement, in full:
"I used to be a defender of the Confederate flag. That's over now. It ended yesterday with the insanity that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, my home state.
I cared about that flag because it represented a different time in America when Virginia chose to side with other southern states and go to war. Never mind the reasons for that decision now; the decision was made and Virginia called on its sons to defend her. And some of my ancestors answered that call, and fought for Virginia in the American Civil War. Some of them died in that war, and they died following that flag. We grow up honoring our ancestors here in the south, and so for that reason a lot of latter day southerners have honored that flag - myself included.
But after what I saw yesterday in Charlottesville, I have to change my way of thinking about the Confederate flag. I have to accept now it has been stolen from our collective southern heritage by the worst elements of American society. The racists, the haters, the ignorant. The KKK, those so-called "white supremisists", those modern day Nazis. They have taken the flag that my ancestors followed and perverted it for purposes that I consider to be evil and immoral. I saw a photo taken in Charlottesville yesterday of a man parading with a Confederate flag alongside another man holding a WWII era Nazi party flag. I cannot tolerate that. If the Confederate flag *wasn't* a symbol of hatred before, it has become one now, because low people have made it one. They have stained that flag beyond redemption in my lifetime, and have quite probably stained it forever. As long as I live, I can never forgive them for that.
Robert Edward Lee is a personal hero of mine. I admire and respect the man for many reasons, but none more important than for the way he conducted himself after the Civil War. He could very easily have taken to the mountains, gathered others around him, and waged a bloody and destructive guerilla war that would have fractured America even further than the Civil War itself had done. Instead he signed an honorable surrender at Appomattox, went home, and began doing all that he could to start rebuilding the country. He accepted a job at a small struggling Virginia school and spent the rest of his days working to educate young leaders who would themselves work to rebuild the state and the nation into a more just society. Robert E. Lee died doing that work, and I respect and honor him for it. The many statues and memorials honoring him in America are well deserved and serve to remind Americans that honor, duty, and working for justice as Lee tried to do are worthy standards to live our own lives by.
But after the events of yesterday, if I could do so I would go to Charlottesville, knock that statue of my hero down with a sledge hammer, and throw the fragments into the sea. And do you know who would stand beside me and help me do it if he were alive today? Robert E. Lee himself, that's who. The same people who have co-opted and disgraced the Confedrate flag now shame and disgrace other memorials to our past, such as that statue of Lee in Charlottesville, and they do so apparently with a complete lack of understanding that their words and actions dishonor the man whose statue they rally around, and that they disgrace the most important things that Lee stood for in his life.
Robert E. Lee would weep if he could see what those people have done in his name. As a Virginian I am weeping now at the shame of it.
Take down those statues; take down and hide away those flags. We Americans have obviously failed to learn the lessons of our great and terrible Civil War. As long as something like the events that happened yesterday in Charlottesville can still happen, we don't deserve to raise our eyes and see the image of a man like Robert E. Lee. He would be ashamed of what we have become."