Baltimore County operates a 450 acre park which is owned by Baltimore City called “Robert E. Lee Park.” Sounds confusing, because – it is, but I digress.
The Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D) and Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) are looking to change the name of the park because they think the name is offensive. I urge them to not change the name.
I defended Robert E. Lee before on this blog very recently, but let’s talk about the highlights because as I said before, few men did more for the cause of reconciliation post-Civil War than Robert E. Lee and few men were as upright:
- Lee on Slavery (December 27, 1856): “…[s]lavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any Country.”
- Lee’s wife and daughter pre-Civil War set up an illegal school on his Arlington Plantation grounds to teach slaves to read and write.
- Lee opposed secession in the first place, but stood by and supported the Confederacy in order to protect his family and home.
- During the war, Lee petitioned the Confederate Congress to allow slaves to fight in the war effort to earn their freedom.
- Following the war, Lee worked behind the scenes with men like Jefferson Davis in order to calm them down and request they stop with their public attacks on the re-established Union.
- Lee supported the initial efforts by President Johnson (D) during Reconstruction, but opposed some of the harsher effects which the Radical Republicans imposed which stripped away citizenship of many Southerners.
- Lee became the President of Washington College (currently Washington and Lee University). While President, Lee expelled students who harassed and violently attacked local black men.
Here’s a few more items:
- William Mack Lee was a slave in the home of Robert E. Lee who became a Baptist preacher. On Lee, he said, “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.”
- He supported a free public education system for the newly freed black population.
- In 1869, he publicly attended a formal event at the White House under President Grant (R) to show that reconciliation was important.
- The character he displayed as a man, led to actions by his children. An example is that of his daughter Mary Custis Lee who was arrested in 1902 for specifically violating Jim Crow laws in order to sit with black passengers on the train.
Lee was a man with a complex life that reflected the times. Yes, he said things which are outlandish and outrageous today – such as supporting a return to Africa program for former slaves post-Civil War and saying that black citizens should not yet receive the right to vote until education was more widespread. But, if we are to blame the man for that, we should also criticize Lincoln who believed white people were superior to blacks and also supported returning former black slaves to Africa.
Lee was a Confederate. He was also a man who supported reconciliation when the war was over. He moved on and supported our preserved union. We should move on from the continuous “offenses” we create for ourselves and leave the park’s name as is.