202 Washington Hall
Lexington, VA 24450
Re: Demands of "The Committee"
Dear Sirs and Madam:
I, like many others, have been following the media accounts of the demands made by a small group of W&L Law students who refer to themselves as “The Committee”. I feel that it is incumbent upon me, and others who feel as I do, to write and urge you, in the strongest terms possible, to resist any inclination to capitulate to these specious demands, whose sole intent is to disparage the memory of General Lee, defile his final resting place and besmirch the reputation of the institution whose very existence he is largely responsible for securing.
These students should be reminded that had it not been for the courage and foresight of the trustees of Washington College to appeal to General Lee, in the late summer of 1865, to accept the presidency of that destitute school, and had he not accepted that position and begun to raise the funds required to maintain and improve that facility with alacrity, their latter-day condemnation of the man and the institution would be moot.
Now to address the specifics of the "demands" themselves:
1. This has already been addressed by the university.
2. The term "Neo-Confederate" is sometimes employed as a pejorative description, or ad hominem slur, for people who take a sympathetic view of southern history and for southerners in general, even when they do not belong to or espouse the ideas of a "Neo-Confederate" organization. That is the case here. The people who gather in Lexington for the Lee-Jackson Day parade and memorial service in Lee Chapel do so solely to honor the memory and service of two great Virginians, not to espouse or advance any agenda. Even a casual observer cannot help but note the solemnity and reverence displayed during the memorial service. Whether "The Committee" likes it or not, Lee Chapel is an icon, a beacon that draws people from all walks of life and from all parts of the country for this one hour service, once a year. For the demands of seven individuals to deny hundreds the right to assemble for an annual, peaceful event would be an injustice of significant magnitude.
3. To the best of my knowledge, the only Confederate flags displayed on campus, at least publicly, are those around the recumbent statue of Lee in the Chapel. Those are regimental battle flags representing some of the regiments that Lee commanded in the Army of Northern Virginia. They are soldiers' flags, not, as many would have you believe, symbolic of anything other than the brotherhood of valor that comprised that gallant body of men, Lee's "boys". Those flags are there representing the devotion and respect of those veterans for their old commander, "Marse Robert". To remove them, for any reason, would border on sacrilege.
4. I am unaware of just what "The Committee" means by the participation of the University in chattel slavery. I do know that many people and institutions, including some of the oldest and most prominent families in New England and any number of great financial institutions, carry a far greater burden of guilt for chattel slavery than does Washington and Lee University, yet I hear no hue and cry for apologies from them. I do know, that like many other Virginians, slaveholding and non-slaveholding, the faculty and students of Washington College rallied to the call to defend Virginia from a pending Northern invasion. Co. I, the Liberty Hall Volunteers of the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment of the famed Stonewall Brigade was made up almost exclusively of those students and their professors. And they sacrificed mightily; only a pitiful remnant of nine men from that company remained standing at Appomattox.
So far as denouncing Lee for his participation in chattel slavery, it is apparent that these students know little of nothing of General Lee's involvement with the "peculiar institution". If they were conversant with it, they would know that Lee, owning no slaves himself, had, as the executor of his father-in-law's estate, manumitted all of the Custis slaves by 1863. As far as the University "denouncing Lee", one cannot escape the irony inherent in that "demand". Indeed! Denounce the man, who more than any other single individual, is responsible for these young people having this institution to attend.
In closing, I urge you not to surrender to the emotion-charged and misleading rhetoric of a tiny minority of the student body, .4 of 1% of the total enrollment. I also ask you to ponder why, in the case of several individuals who are second and third year law students, it took them so long to become "offended". To cave in to their outrageous "demands", couched in the most divisive, disrespectful and racially evocative terms imaginable, would do a disservice to the University, the majority of the enrolled students and the Commonwealth of Virginia."
W. A. Dennison, Bristol, VA