Robert E. Lee's Birthday Honored in Va.
Friday, January 19, 2007; 2:04 PM
RICHMOND, Va. -- History buffs still captivated by Gen. Robert E. Lee planned lectures, a banquet and artillery salutes to mark the 200th anniversary of the Confederate strategist's birth.
Events were scheduled throughout the weekend at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, at Lee's birthplace at Stratford Hall Plantation, and in Richmond, the former Confederate capital.
"Robert E. Lee was an outstanding general, a groundbreaking educator and a profound gentleman," said S. Waite Rawls III, chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. "But perhaps his greatest moments came after the war, when he worked very hard to reconcile a country that was still deeply divided after a bitter internal conflict."
While many Southern groups and Civil War enthusiasts revere him, others here and elsewhere objected to the glorification of Lee and the so-called Lost Cause.
Last week, the Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticized the use of state funding for the events and plans to make recognition of the anniversary a part of the public school curriculum.
State NAACP director King Salim Khalfani said he doesn't have a problem with those who mark Lee's 200th birthday "as long as public dollars aren't used for promoting the Lost Cause."
In Florida, Hillsborough County proclaimed 2007 the "Year of Lee" and encouraged "all citizens to learn more about the life of Lee and attend the state's seminars and celebration tributes in his memory."
"That's a slap in the face to every African-American, Hispanic, and every minority in the county," said Curtis Stokes, president of the county's NAACP chapter.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia in several Southern victories that earned him the reputation as a top military commander, but he lost the battle at Gettysburg, Pa., considered by many a turning point in the war. In the final weeks of the conflict he took command of the entire depleted Confederate military, surrendering to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in April 1865.
After the war, Lee became president of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington.
J. Holt Merchant, a history professor at the university, said Lee helped rebuild Washington College's war-ravaged grounds while emphasizing to Southern men the importance education would play in the rebuilding of the South. Lee died five years after becoming the school's president.
Merchant said as a general, Lee compared favorably to any of the country's finest.
"But Lee the educator and Lee the reconciler are terribly important here" and perhaps overlooked, he said.
The Museum of the Confederacy is showcasing an oil painting of Lee that was last displayed publicly in 1868 in Paris. The gilt-framed oil painting is on loan from a Richmond-area man who bought it at an estate sale.
Stratford Hall Plantation, where Lee was born Jan. 19, 1807, will host house tours, lectures and artillery salutes. Saturday's events let youngsters learn about Lee's childhood at the 1,900-acre plantation, on the bluffs of the Potomac River.
The Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans planned a banquet Friday to celebrate Lee's life featuring a talk by Pat Falci, the historical director for the Civil War movies "Gods and Generals" and "Gettysburg."
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