Barracks, gate, road named for Confederate general
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, whose U.S. House district includes the Highlands, was among the co-signers of a June 18 letter asking the Army to remove any symbols and rename any buildings at the United States Military Academy at West Point that honor Confederate officers, namely Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“Honoring Americans who engaged in armed rebellion against the United States in support of racism and slavery does not reflect the values of the institution or our Army,” Maloney said in a statement.
The letter was addressed to Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, and Ryan McCarthy, the secretary of the Army, both of whom have expressed support for renaming nine U.S. military bases that honor Confederate generals.
Maloney, a Democrat, in 2017 asked the Army to rename a cadet barracks that has been named for Lee since 1962. The request came soon after violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by the removal there of a statue of the general.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented hundreds of public symbols of the Confederacy around the country, although it identifies only three in New York State: the Lee Barracks; a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the Bronx; and Stonewall Jackson Drive in Brooklyn.
Chris Jenks of Just Security at the New York University School of Law pointed out in 2017 that, in addition to the barracks, West Point has a Lee Gate, Lee Road and portraits of Lee, who was the superintendent of West Point from 1851 to 1855, in its superintendents’ quarters and the cadet mess hall. The Robert E. Lee Memorial Award is also given each year to the graduating cadet with the highest grades in the core math curriculum.
In 1975 Congress passed a resolution restoring Lee’s citizenship. He had made the request on June 13, 1865, but his required oath of allegiance to the U.S. was filed away and not discovered in the National Archives until nearly a century later.
What would Lincoln do with Maloney’s demand to erase the memory of Robert E. Lee from West Point? What would this assassinated President who invoked the Christian virtue of forgiveness do? What would Lincoln do who permitted Confederate soldiers to return to their homes? Do we remember his words: “With malice toward none and charity for all, for firmness in the right as God gives us the right to see, let us strive on to bind up the nation’s wounds.” Our nation was wounded and Lincoln was the healer. But those wounds are being re-opened and deepened by the likes of the Mahoney et. al. whose rampage of moral arrogance is wrecking the very foundations of our nation.
Those of us demanding that West Point not honor traitors who committed treason in defense of slavery are not opening any new wounds. Those wounds unfortunately were opened because Lincoln was assassinated (by diehard Confederates, by the way) and his successor Andrew Johnson was a disgusting racist.
Despite the efforts of Congress and the newly freed slaves who experienced a few years of truly democratic government in the ex-Confederacy, white racism triumphed in the end and the nation was treated to over 100 years of Jim Crow and second-class citizenship for African Americans. That wound has never healed.
Even with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965, it is still dangerous to be black in America as witnessed by the recent publicized unwarranted killings of blacks by vigilantes and police — publicized only because of cellphone videos. Before, it was easy for such killings to be officially justified with the magic words, “I feared for my life.” That wound has never healed.
The people in the streets demanding real change are making the third effort to do what Lincoln urged us to do – bind up the nation’s wounds. Unfortunately, that requires that all of us take a truly honest look at our nation’s history and not succumb to simple minded assertions — such as that because Lee was an “honorable man” his statue belongs at West Point.
Right on, Ann. Amazing why people want to change the history of the U.S. Right, wrong or indifferent, this is what happened way before we were born. Leave history alone.
Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. His accusers cannot say the same. [via Facebook]
Lee was asked by Lincoln to lead the Union army and refused in order to lead an armed insurrection based on preserving and expanding the right to own other human beings as property. [via Facebook]
I agree it is very dangerous for African-Americans in some situations not emanating necessarily from the police action but from their own community, especially if they unfortunately lived in certain sections of Chicago or Baltimore or any large city. And that is an inescapable fact no matter how much deflection or diversion is attempted.
But I do not wish to belabor that point but provide some perspective as one attempts to judge the motivations, character and actions of any human being from the vantage point of the 21st century. In that quest, I read a Smithsonian article: Making Sense of Robert E. Lee. The following is a quote:
“Few figures in American history are more divisive, contradictory or elusive than Robert E. Lee, the reluctant, tragic leader of the Confederate Army, who died in his beloved Virginia at age 63 in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. In a new biography, Robert E. Lee, Roy Blount Jr., treats Lee as a man of competing impulses, a ‘paragon of manliness’ and ‘one of the greatest military commanders in history,’ who was nonetheless ‘not good at telling men what to do.’ Lee tragically could not raise his sword against his family, his Virginia brothers, his state and chose to raise it instead in their defense.”
Maloney, leave history alone.