As a lifelong Southerner and fifth-generation grandson of General Robert E. Lee, I’ll admit to having a certain degree of pride in a heritage largely devoid of cause for it. As a much more distant grandson of George Washington, I’ll always have pride in the nation he helped to found. Of course, I’m not alone in those feelings — evidently, they’re shared by a group of Virginians known as the “Sons of Confederate Veterans.” But my fellow Confederate sons certainly have an odd way of showing it.
The incident began on July 26th in Lexington, Virginia, at a rally sponsored by the Sons. It took place on the campus grounds of Washington and Lee University (named by Grandads #1 and #2), and centered around the university’s Lee Chapel. The chapel (which now partly serves as a Confederate museum), was commissioned by Lee in 1867, when he became president of the then Washington University. (Yes, that happened.)
The University has long reserved the right to not allow images and emblems of the Confederate Battle flag on campus. But a certain 15-year-old attendee couldn’t have known that; this was his first trip to the campus, and he was there to see the chapel/museum. In the spirit of Southern solidarity, the boy wore a t-shirt with a large Confederate Battle flag on it.
He was stopped at the gate, and asked to turn his shirt inside out before entering — one of four such recorded events that day. all ended peacefully and respectfully in accordance to campus policy. And to keep Grandpa Lee’s chapel from turning into the epicenter of a Klan rally.
(The clothes the boy was asked to remove or turn inside out.)
W&L doesn’t usually exercise its prerogative to ban Confederate Battle flags, but they felt the need to on this particular day:
The University chose to take these extraordinary steps — and the equally extraordinary step of closing Lee Chapel for the weekend — to avoid potential incidents. The decision to implement these procedures was based on the extreme nature of many communications that we received in the days leading up to the event.
Our primary concern will always be for the safety and security of our campus community and all its members, including the many visitors that we have throughout the year. At the same time, we have been clear that we will not allow outside groups to use the campus as a platform.
Given the tenor of the communications and without knowing what we might expect on Saturday, we had no choice but to employ these measures that day.
We can only imagine what “communications” and other scents might have been in the wind for the university to first ban the wearing of Battle Flags (which is what they are), and then, as you read, close the chapel the next day. It is hard to say, but we’re betting more than a few contained the words “Obama,” “impeach” and “n****r.” Just a guess. Sign (ironically) with the Gadsden Flag as you wish.
Of course, the Sons of Confederate Veterans had something to say on the matter of preventing a political rally from an outside group on its private property.
- Point 1: It’s a Confederate museum, and people can be expected to wear Confederate symbols while visiting. Which is a somewhat fair point.
- Point 2: The university owes an apology to the SCV, and expects the university to “abide by its own mission statement” and not obstruct the expression of thought.
They also question if this is indicative of future actions toward guests of the Lee Chapel and university.
The university itself maintains that this was a matter of public safety…mostly under the auspices that flying a Southern Cross war flag (not a Confederate Nation flag, which is different) in the middle of a bunch of angry right-wingers was probably not the safest or smartest thing in the world. And they maintain the right to shut any portion of the campus, or kick off any non-student at any time, for any reason.
(The real Confederate Nation Flag.)
So, don’t expect that apology.
But, I’m willing to offer them something.
Fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans…the son of your General is telling you that the war is officially over. You may now relinquish your battle flags, and rejoin the Union. After the Confederacy was lost, Grandpa Lee (a Democrat who’d always opposed secession) was the first to push for peaceful and friendly reconciliation between the Union and Confederacy. He also supported the President, as well as the education of and support for blacks to prepare them for positions of social equality and political power later. He looked forward to the day that the intelligent, educated, democratically elected sons of “freedmen” would play a role in shaping the nation’s future.
And that’s a heritage you can be proud of.
(PS: General George Washington’s kid is also telling you to stop wearing the damned Gadsden Flag as a cape. You look ridiculous.)