It is time for the past to be the past. It is time to let it go. Haul it down. Bury it.
We must move past racism and remove all the statues that glorify it.
Ask the great-nephew of Robert E. Lee, Robert W. Lee IV. And ask Robert E. Lee V, the great-great-grandson of the Confederate general.
Earlier this month, the nephew, who also is a church pastor in North Carolina, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post headlined: "Robert E. Lee is my ancestor. Take down his statue, and let his cause be lost."
Rob Lee explained: "In the small town where I live and grew up, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy didn't need a special name — it was the education we all received. We were taught that during the Civil War, the Confederate States of America had just motive. Perhaps you've heard the mantra: 'The Civil War was fought for states' rights.' It was enshrined in monuments across the country after the war ended.
"The catch is that there's more to that sentence, something we southerners are never taught: The Civil War was fought for states' rights to enslave African people in the United States of America."
Noting that he was with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as state officials announced their intent to remove the statue of Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue, he wrote: "I am fully aware that the broken, racist system we have built on the Lost Cause is far larger than a single statue, but the statue of my ancestor has stood for years in Richmond as an idol of this white supremacist mind-set. The statue is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change."
Two years before, in August 2017 shortly after the debacle in Charlottesville when white nationalists sparked violence after marching with torches and chanting "Blood and Soil" and "Jews will not replace us," Robert E. Lee V, the general's great-great-grandson, said much the same thing to Mike Semel, the local editor of The Washington Post:
"First and foremost, if it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today. ... I just hate for some people to hide behind Robert E. Lee's name. Saying we are doing this for him and for the South, and that's not at all what he stood for. He is one who said immediately after the war to put your arms down and let's bring this nation back together — not divide it even further. ..."
He owned slaves, though, the editor persisted. And the fifth generation Lee replied:
"He did. Absolutely did. ... And that's why you hear stories about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and General Lee. They are just men of their times... . It was a horrendous institution. A mar on history. If General Lee's statue or name is that divisive, you need to take that down."
Thankfully, Chattanooga doesn't have a Robert E. Lee statue. But we do have a Confederate bust on the lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse. And we have our own share of confused sentiment about the life and times of Gen. A.P. Stewart, who wasn't from here but theoretically was enshrined here because he helped plan and create the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park to help bring healing after the Civil War.
Old A.P., as the bust is sometimes called, has made news twice in recent years — in 2017 when activists here first called for the statue to come down but six white county commissioners outvoted two black ones to keep it, and again recently when local protesters of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis defaced it.
The white commissioners who voted to keep the statue argued that Stewart was not a slave owner. And he wasn't. But his biographer, Sam Davis Elliott, wrote that Stewart had a "visceral belief in the inferiority of people of African descent and distaste for blacks being on an equal social footing with whites."
Our white commissioners also failed to see irony of the fact that if the general was honored for his work on the park, why was he not depicted in civilian clothing rather in his Confederate uniform? And why did his plaque pay homage to nothing more than his four years of treasonous fighting against the United States of America for a cause that sought to preserve slavery? And why was his equal partner in the work on the national military park, former Union Gen. Joseph S. Fullerton, not represented at the courthouse with him?
There was a reason for the lopsided history, and it was called the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy was founded in Nashville in 1894 as an organization of Southern white women whose express mission was instilling in Southern white youth a reverence for Confederate principles. The group sought to build those children into "living monuments" who would grow up to defend states' rights and white supremacy, according to Karen L. Cox, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of "Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture."
The group is best known for funding and organizing the placement of hundreds of Confederate statues and busts like that of A.P. Stewart — all in the time of Jim Crow. Cox wrote that Daughters members developed catechism drills "that led children to believe slavery was a benevolent institution in which cruel masters were rare," among other things. One Daughters member, Laura Martin Rose, who wrote as Mrs. S.E.F. Rose, penned an influential school primer on the Ku Klux Klan. She was lauded by Confederate organizations for 'bringing the true history of this great organization to the young people of the Southland... .'"
Today the group's website "totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy" and says its members are "grieved that certain hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own."
Times change. Today there is no room or excuse for any of us to hide the racism that begat the Stewart statue and others like it.
Old A.P. should be moved to stand guard and rest in peace at one of our Confederate cemeteries.