- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

RICHMOND — The 200th anniversary of the birth of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Southern icon whom many still revere as a brilliant military strategist and a Virginia gentleman nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War, will be marked this weekend with events across the state.

Events will be held at Washington and Lee University, Lee’s birthplace at Stratford Hall Plantation, and in Richmond, the former Confederate capital. Others are planned in the upcoming months.

“Robert E. Lee was an outstanding general, a groundbreaking educator and a profound gentleman,” said S. Waite Rawls III, chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. “But perhaps his greatest moments came after the war, when he worked very hard to reconcile a country that was still deeply divided after a bitter internal conflict. He put aside his personal feelings and did his ‘duty’ — to lead the South back into the Union.”

Lee was born Jan. 19, 1807, at Stratford Hall on the bluffs of the Potomac River in Westmoreland County. The 1,900-acre plantation, built in the 1730s, now is a historic site.

Stratford Hall will feature a special “Lee pilgrimage” and a historic interpreter portraying Lee’s decision to resign from the U.S. Army upon the secession of Virginia from the Union. Cannon artillery salutes will be held, and visitors can take candlelight tours of the Lee family’s home. Today’s events feature “Lee for Children” tours that allow youngsters to hunt for key items that figured into Lee’s childhood.

The Museum of the Confederacy is showcasing an oil painting of Lee that was last displayed publicly in 1868 in Paris.

While many Southern groups revere him, the glorification of Lee strikes a raw nerve among others in a state that still has a Lee-Jackson Day to commemorate Lee and Confederate Gen. Thomas J.”Stonewall” Jackson.

The Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week held a press conference at the Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond to voice disapproval of state funding to plan and coordinate events for Lee’s 200th birthday and make the anniversary integral to the public schools’ curriculum.

NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani said he doesn’t have a problem with those who mark Lee’s 200th birthday “as long as public dollars aren’t used for promoting the Lost Cause.”

After the war, Lee became president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, in Lexington.

While Lee is most remembered as a military hero, Washington and Lee history professor J. Holt Merchant recognizes Lee primarily for rebuilding Washington College’s war-ravaged grounds and aiming to reunify the nation after the brutal war by helping young Southern men realize the value of education.

He emphasized the practical sciences, but also expanded the school’s history, modern languages and literature offerings, Mr. Merchant said, with the goal of helping young men to rebuild the South.

“He was a great general, and he compares well as any general in American history,” Mr. Merchant said. “But Lee the educator and Lee the reconciler are terribly important here” and perhaps overlooked.

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