How Do You Teach History After It Has Been Erased

More than a month has passed since Traveller’s plaques were removed from campus at W&L.  His grave marker outside Lee Chapel has now been replaced with a watered-down version removing any reference to Robert E. Lee—who gave Traveller his relevance—or the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose history (like Lee’s) has been methodically erased from campus.

Traveller’s plaque on his stable next to Lee House has still not been replaced.  Additionally, two plaques from Payne Hall were inexplicably removed—one marking where Lee was sworn in as president, and another noting the location of Lee’s office from 1865 to 1868.

The university’s actions continue to attract broad negative publicity, including this recent article from The College Fix:

These moves are consistent with the Board of Trustees’ statement in June of 2021: “We have reviewed campus symbols, names and practices, and we are making changes to remove doubt about our separation from the Confederacy and the Lost Cause.”

Honoring Lee, according to their logic, is tantamount to supporting white supremacy and the so-called “Lost Cause” movement to glorify the Confederacy.  They ascribe only negative motives to those who acted to honor Lee in that era.

And they ignore the historical facts. Lee was opposed to slavery.  He was opposed to secession.  He was drawn into the war reluctantly when his native state of Virginia seceded.  He did what he believed to be his duty to defend Virginia.  When others suggested a prolonged guerilla war, Lee put an end to it.  After the war, he led the effort to reconcile North and South.

Separating Lee the General from Lee the college President is not only impossible, but misguided.  The same qualities of impeccable character and virtue that made him great as a general also made him great as a college president.  W&L should embrace them altogether.

Even the harshest critics of the Confederacy must concede that Lee’s remarkable conduct through the Civil War is instructive, providing students with an inspirational example of leadership that is relevant today in business and public affairs alike.  His leadership qualities motivated those around him, uplifting morale and instilling a stronger sense of virtue through his impeccable character.

And in his five years as president of Washington College, he not only saved the school but implemented curriculum changes to make it one of the best schools in the country.

We believe that Robert E. Lee’s story should be taught honestly and that he should be restored to his place of honor on campus, which requires educating people on the historical facts surrounding his life rather than banishing them to some Orwellian memory hole.

Removing plaques and renaming Lee Chapel—along with cancelling Founders’ Day and striking images of George Washington and Lee from diplomas—are the very definition of erasing (not teaching) history.

George Washington and Robert E. Lee were literally builders.  Exercising bold, visionary leadership, they made the world a better place through the buildings, institutions, and ethical traditions they built.

Up until very recently, W&L embraced our namesakes and their predecessors dating back to 1749.  The campus brought the past to life, inspiring students in an environment akin to a living museum. Our history was an essential part of the W&L brand.

Now our storied past has been rejected.  Rather than creating something positive and inspirational, the university is only destroying its history, tearing down what makes it great.

While the Dudley administration and some members of the Board of Trustees may wish to purge Lee from W&L, we and thousands of alumni like us will continue the fight to preserve the unique history, traditions, and values of our alma mater.

We urge alumni to support our efforts to build the George Washington and Robert E. Lee Center for American Ideals, which will ensure that the legacies of our great founders will endure for generations to come.

Gib Kerr
The Generals Redoubt
Board of Directors

Please click on the link below to help us continue the progress we are making in our efforts to influence the future of Washington and Lee.  Your financial support of TGR sends a powerful message to the leadership at Washington and Lee which they cannot ignore.  

Let your voice be heard through our growing organization.  In addition to improvements and activities at our new Fancy Hill headquarters in Rockbridge County, your generous contribution will fund more on-campus programs, student groups and national speakers who share our commitment to the values, history, and traditions of Washington and Lee.  

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