Robert W. Lee Visits Robert E. Lee

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Today I visited Arlington House. A house memorialized to Robert Edward Lee, general of the Confederacy and my uncle removed by generations of time and space. As we walked the halls of his house you could feel the history seeping through the cracks in the plaster and paint.

“Wasn’t he nice to his slaves?” One lady asked on the tour to our park ranger turned tour guide. “Depends if you count enslavement as nice.” The tour guide replied nonchalantly. But her question digs at a deeper truth: how we interpret history matters. Sure it would be easy to enjoy this site as a place where a distant ancestor once roamed and farmed but the harder reality is facing the fact that he enslaved persons of color as any wealthy Southern man would do during his life in the Antebellum South.

“Well didn’t be free his slaves at the onset of the war?” The same lady asked. “Yes but they were enslaved before that.” The park ranger said as if trying to bat away her inherent privilege. Again, how we interpret the history of the Lee family matters. And what the Lee’s alive today do with that history matters as well.

I will never be able to un-see where Uncle Lee forced his slaves to work in the kitchen. I will never be able to forget that scene in my imagination. But I can work to make sure our history is remembered and gives precedence to what really matters: the absolute redemption of the family name. The absolute redemption of the southern reality that so desperately needs redemption.

I can’t do it by myself. I can’t save the South for the sake of our future alone. That’s why I’m committing to stay here and fight for progress. Won’t you join me? Won’t you visit your history and pay homage to the ugliness that might be in store? For then, and only then will we see the fruition of God’s coming kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

At the gift shop in Arlington, I bought a bust of Robert E. Lee. One day, years from now when I have kids I will pull this bust down and tell them the story of their family and lineage. I will tell them all of it, and hold nothing back. We will mourn, and we will move forward together. Robert Lee… the name has power, but one day that power will shift for good. Until then, I continue to work.