[Ed. Note: this letter was originally sent to and published by the Lexington News-Gazette. It has been republished here with the permission of the author.
Ed Update from comments. David is not an alumnus, but a member of the larger community with very strong ties to the University being the child of a much beloved professor.]
Values of School Not Embodied In Lee
April 2, 2021
To the Editor,
W&L is facing a huge, defining decision on whether to drop Lee’s name from its title. Too much of that debate focuses on Lee’s ownership, treatment, and freeing of slaves and his motivations for joining the Confederate cause. Both issues need to be considered, but the complete story regarding the former can never be known, while focusing only on his loyalties to Virginia is akin to reading the prologue and skipping the book. And both issues pale in comparison to, and are used to deflect attention to, the immorality of his role in the Civil War.
In deciding to accept command of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee knew full well that he was agreeing to lead the state’s (and eventually the Confederacy’s) effort to preserve and extend the enslavement of millions of African Americans. This is why Lee’s name is and always will be an open wound for so many within the university, the local community and far beyond.
Lee’s presidency was a major step on the way to the great, internationally respected university that Washington College has become and that is a cornerstone of our community. His contributions to Washington College, though sometimes inflated, deserve a place of respect at the university.
But the values of the university community that I see evolving are not embodied in a man who committed treason and led the fight to extend slavery. Nor, I believe, are those values representative of the community where the university is lucky enough to make its home.
Racism is alive and well in the United States as evidenced by the trial seeking justice for George Floyd’s death, the slaying of six Asian American women in Atlanta, and vote suppressing actions of the Georgia legislature, to name just a few. The nation desperately needs our leading institutions to take bold moves that lay the groundwork for change. I hope the university will take this opportunity to lead us forward.
DAVID GUNN MECSAS
Rockbridge County and Needham, Mass.