A Letter from Robert E. Lee IV Regarding the Lee Chapel Flags
August 21, 2014
Dr. Kenneth P. Ruscio
Washington and Lee University
204 West Washington Street
Lexington, VA 24450
Dear President Ruscio:
I have been following the issues surrounding the Lee Chapel flags, the possibility of a Martin Luther King holiday, and related matters through your communications with the W&L community. I write to offer my unqualified endorsement of your response to those issues—especially your forceful support of my great-grandfather's presidency of Washington College and your plans for the Confederate battle flags.
I agree with you that Robert E. Lee's record can withstand honest historical appraisals. I can think of few individuals in history who have been so lionized and vilified with equal fervor. I believe that the five years he spent as Washington College's president were as important to him as they were to the college. His passion for using his position there to help heal the wounds of war was apparent through both his words and deeds. And I am pleased to know about plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Lee’s taking the oath of office as president during the 2015-16 academic year.
Based on everything that I have ever heard or read, it is clear to me that President Lee would wholeheartedly support your goals of making Washington and Lee a welcoming environment for all students who choose to come there today. As a proud alumnus, I, too, support those goals.
In my view, removing the flags from the statuary chamber is overdue. As I understand the history of Lee Chapel, the room in which the statue is located was designed to focus on Edward Valentine's famous sculpture. The statue memorializes Lee as a man of honor and principle throughout his life; it was never meant to be a memorial to the Civil War or the Confederacy. His actions during his five years as president of Washington College made it clear that he had put that chapter of his life behind him. It is also clear that he tried to help others do the same.
At the same time, we should not simply ignore the flags and their undeniable historical significance. Your plan of returning the actual battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum is the ideal way to care for and study these important artifacts.
I am proud of my alma mater. I am certain that my great-grandfather would be proud of the institution he once led. And I know he would appreciate the civil manner in which you have approached what must be emotional discussions. But most important of all, I trust that today's students will be reminded of just how important the University’s core values are. In my opinion, the qualities of honor, responsibility, civility, service and leadership that Washington and Lee instills in each generation of students are just as important as the exceptional education it provides.
Please know that you have my full support and my best wishes.
Robert E. Lee IV