Spotlight: Lee in Memory

Published:March 15, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

We recently posted our entry on Robert E. Lee in American memory. Here’s a taste:

The stakes in controlling Lee’s memory continue to be high. At the extremes, he represents both the South’s finest face and its ugliest. He was proud, honorable, and stoic; he was a gentleman. But he also fought to defend a country founded on chattel slavery. These tensions can be found in the controversial combining, in 1983, of Lee-Jackson Day with the new federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. According to an Associated Press report reprinted in The Winchester Star on February 13, 1981, “Cries of shock and outrage came from Virginians unwilling to link a black civil rights leader with two of the most revered figures of the Confederacy.” A Richmond man said in a public hearing that lawmakers “can give Martin Luther King any day you want so long as it isn’t anywhere near Lee-Jackson Day.” At the same hearing, Maxwell Perkinson Sr., the Virginia commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said, “If a day is to be set aside for a black, let it be for a Virginian.” According to the Associated Press, “Laughter from the audience greeted his remark, ‘Some of my best friends are blacks.'” The two holidays were separated in 2000.

For an example of Lee’s memory rearing its ugly head, see the comments on this post.

IMAGE: Label from 1933 (The Museum of the Confederacy)