The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gen. Robert E. Lee is his namesake ancestor. On Sunday, he’ll preach about the evils of racism.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is shown on his mount, Traveller. A decorated U.S. Army field officer and former West Point superintendent, Lee chose to resign his commission at the start of the American Civil War in 1861. He took command of state military forces in Virginia and later became commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. (AP)
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Editor’s note: In a May 14 Fact Checker column, Glenn Kessler reported that a search of genealogical records had found no evidence that the Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, author of this column, is descended from the family of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In response to a subsequent inquiry from Post Opinions, Lee stood by his claim to be a descendant but was unable to provide any supporting evidence. He said documents that would support his claim are in the possession of another family member and that he no longer has access to them.
Robert W. Lee, IV is the pastor of Unifour Church and author of the book, “A Sin by Any Other Name: Reckoning With Racism and the Heritage of the South.”

Over 150 years ago, my family made a choice, one that defined a war, a nation and the realities we still face today. I’m a descendant of the Lees of Virginia. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is someone whose historical personhood I hear about every day, because I live with his name.

Growing up in the South, I was taught to be proud of Lee. To this day, when I mention the shame I feel, people are quick to call him a “good man” whose “actions were for states’ rights.” These veiled excuses for what happened don’t work and are trite.

I can’t do much about what that Robert Lee did in the 19th century. But this Robert Lee can do something different today. As a Christian pastor, on Sunday, this descendant of the Lees of Virginia will step into a pulpit in Raleigh, N.C., and say the names “Alton Sterling” and “Philando Castile.” Because enough is enough.

I’m tired of the careless conversations where racism rears its ugly head. I’m tired of the name Robert Lee equating only with someone who fought to divide the nation on the basis of race. Most importantly, I’m tired of young black men being gunned down by police.

I challenge other clergy to say the names “Alton Sterling” and “Philando Castile” in worship this weekend. When places of worship give voice to what has happened, we can begin the long road to healing, to change and to the fruition of God’s unfolding future.

I can’t erase the history of my family’s past, but I can say this: If you don’t use the power you’ve been given for the good of this world, then you are part of the problem like the Lee family was long ago. If you don’t stand up this weekend in your place of worship and commit yourself to the betterment of this nation and world, then you have more issues than where to go to lunch after service.

Now is the time to stand with the oppressed, to put our money where our mouths are and say, “Enough is enough.” By God, we’ve been given a voice, and it’s a grave mistake if we don’t use it.

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