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Ms. Pryor dismissed the commonly held views that Lee was opposed to slavery or that Lee did not leave much of a record about his views on slavery.

“That is just not true,” she said. “I found lots and lots of documents relating to slavery and relating to his views of slavery.

“It’s interesting because Lee had the greatest publicist in the world in the 19th century who wanted to portray him in a certain way,” she said. “When a society creates a folkloric figure, it superimposes the traits on that person that it would like him to be considered as having, such as Lee being anti-slavery.”

She said it is true that Lee regarded slavery as an “unfortunate institution” but that view was primarily because of the harmful ways slavery affected whites. Other than that, Lee’s position on slavery “is absolutely the pro-slavery line of his day, right down the line.”

Lee’s views were “reflective of his time,” Ms. Pryor said. “You can say, ‘He’s no worse than anybody else.’ But, you can’t say he’s any better than anybody else either.”

Ms. Pryor said one interesting aspect of Lee’s legacy is how varied the opinions are about the man. In some regions, Lee is regarded as a symbol “of everything that the South thinks is good and what they’d like to have people believe is true about their society.” She said Lee has been a “role model” to Southerners. Others view Lee as “a symbol of oppression” or “a person who betrayed the nation’s trust.”

Despite what one may think of Lee, Ms. Pryor said, the lesson of his life is that “you can fail and still not be a failure,” a notion counterintuitive in an American culture that values achievement and victory.

“Whatever happened during the war, whatever you think about the decisions he made in 1861, he becomes a positive force for the reunification of the country,” said Ms. Pryor. “There’s this redemptive quality about it as well, that you can get another chance, in which you can get it right, somehow, in the end.”