Today is the official observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s first African American president. Thus, today is a day that resonates with particular sweetness in the hearts and minds of many Americans. So it is with a certain amount of irony that today also happens to be the birthday of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s most celebrated Civil War general.
General Robert E. Lee, The Confederacy, and Slavery
Why is this convergence of events ironic? Because, simply stated, the Confederacy was pro slavery. Consequently, many people are opposed to celebrating the birth of a man who led an army that was dedicated to preserving an institution that was unspeakably evil. Lest anyone forget, slaves suffered a number of horrible indignities at the hands of their white masters (Robert E. Lee, incidentally, was once a slave owner). They were separated from their families, whipped and chained, and considered to be subhuman pieces of property used for the pleasure and enrichment of white plantation owners.
General Robert E. Lee’s Accomplishments and Admirers
Robert E. Lee was a tremendously accomplished and well-respected military man, and, no doubt, a man who had the courage of his convictions and inspired a tremendous amount of loyalty among those whom he led in battle. And, in fact, some would argue that the birthday’s of King and Lee ought to be celebrated simultaneously as a matter of course: “This is one of those years in which Robert E. Lee’s actual birthday falls on the date of the official observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s. Ideally, that’s the way it ought to be. They belong together. Both, after all, were sons of the South, and came to represent her highest traditions: courage, duty, faith. Even if not all of us may see it that way. For some still insist that a choice must be made: King or Lee, black or white, one or the other,” writes Paul Greenberg in the Patriot Post.
Supporters and admirers of Robert E. Lee would argue that he was actually opposed to slavery. As evidence of this, they would perhaps cite his support, in the latter part of the war, of enrolling slaves in the Confederate States Army with manumission (the freeing of slaves) offered in exchange for services rendered. Lee’s supporters talk up his image as a Southern gentlemen and an icon of the antebellum South, a man who stood for nobility and piety. A man, who, as Paul Greenberg writes above, embodies the ideals of courage, duty and faith.
Robert E. Lee, Answers.com
Two Southerners, One holiday, Paul Greenberg, The Patriot, January 19, 2009