Scathing 1928 Takedown Shows Why Robert E. Lee Deserves Zero Statues

An essay by W.E.B. Du Bois resurfaced amid new calls to remove Confederate monuments.

A nearly century-old assessment of Robert E. Lee written by W.E.B. Du Bois resurfaced on social media this week to illustrate the fundamental flaw with statues honoring the Confederate general. 

“Either he knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense, or he did not,” Du Bois wrote in 1928 in the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine. “If he did not he was a fool. If he did, he was a traitor and a rebel ― not indeed to his country, but to humanity and humanity’s God.”

Du Bois debunked the notion that Lee and the Confederates were fighting for states’ rights as “nonsense,” adding:

The South cared only for State Rights as a weapon to defend slavery. If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalistic in 1861 as it had been in 1812.

Du Bois ― a sociologist, civil rights activist, author and co-founder of the NAACP ― said the best way to perpetuate Lee’s memory is not to honor him with statues, but explain this to “the young white south.”

The essay has been widely shared on Twitter after being tweeted by Current Affairs magazine editor Nathan J. Robinson.

A number of Confederate monuments have been removed or are scheduled to be removed, but some have defended the statues and memorials, including President Donald Trump.

One of Lee’s descendants told Congress this week it’s time for the monuments to come down. The Rev. Robert Wright Lee called the statues “an affront to those now who are suffering under current weights of oppression.”