Descendant of Robert E. Lee: Black lives matter, statues of the confederate general should be removed

A descendant of Robert E. Lee, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, told a House panel on Tuesday that Black lives matter, and that statues and memorials to the general in the Confederate army should be removed.

Video Transcript

ROBERT WRIGHT LEE: I am not the first Robert Lee to testify before the United States Congress. One did in 1866 during reconstruction. It is, indeed, another person who bears a first and surname identical to mine, and whose lineage I bear as a nephew of Confederate General Robert E Lee.

But I've been clear that I dare not speak for my entire family or for even the general himself, as some still revere him and see no reason for this hearing today. I will instead let the famed Confederate soldiers speak for himself, as his documented testimony before Congress can be found easily in your records. When asked before Congress and the country if black American citizens were equally capable of acquiring knowledge as white Americans, that, Robert Lee said, I do not think that he is capable of acquiring knowledge as the white man is. There are some more apt than others. I have known some to acquire knowledge and skill in their trade or profession. I have had servants of my own who learned to read and write very well.

Lee was later asked by a senator from Missouri during the same hearing if southern states should allow the suffrage of black Americans. Lee remarked, my own opinion is that at this time they cannot vote intelligently. And that given them the right of suffrage would open the door to great deals of demagogism and lead to embarrassments in various ways.

I raise these two statements in moments from the other Robert E Lee's testimony to highlight the difference and dissonance from what this Robert Lee is about to say. I fully believe, along with a host of other amazing citizens of this great country, that black lives matter. And for us to continue to celebrate a man who questioned the education, disparaged the right to vote of black life, and had previously fought for the continued enslavement of Africans on the North American continent is an affront to those now who are suffering under current weights of oppression.

That said, I want to uplift two people who ultimately shared that with me. One was Janie Bowman, my black nanny in the south in the 1990s who sang the sweet hour of prayer while I slept in her arms when my parents worked. Though, she's not on this earth today, I know in the here after, she along with countless others who experienced racism, and bigotry, and white supremacy are cheering you all on to show that the cost of following what's right might not be politically expedient, but it is incredibly good.

Likewise, my confirmation mentor, a strong woman of color named Bertha Hamilton, taught me that I could take my Confederate symbols down and still live to tell the tale. She implored me to remove a flag in a picture I had in my room because she saw my life, my calling as more valuable than these symbols.

I'm here today to say the same is true for all of you. If we are honest, the answer is clear. We cannot remain complicit with these monuments. We cannot remain silent anymore. If we do so, our silence becomes agreement and endorsement to complicity. The statue at Antietam and the bill that it represents and statues everywhere must be removed for a more perfect union, which is inclusive of a better tomorrow and a better United States.

I will close by saying that as much as I love the history of my family and the study they're in, I am most avidly an armchair presidential historian. Many presidents from President Kennedy, President Reagan, and President Obama have compared these United States to a shining city on a hill. While I acknowledge that all of these three presidents were incredible orators and public speakers, the notion of a city on a hill is indistinctly spiritual one-- an area I hope at least as a pastor that I know well.

In the Christian New Testament, Matthew's gospel states you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket.

Friends, we are on a hill. I call on this Committee and this Congress to pass this bill not because of erasing history, but on the fact that the American people have lived a life that is no longer hidden. Thank you.