- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Virginia commission made up of legislators, educators and leaders of heritage groups spent the 199th birthday of Robert E. Lee yesterday offering the first glimpse of the state’s plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Confederate general’s birthday.

Delegate Benjamin L. Cline, a Republican, said the commission is coordinating the bicentennial activities, from lectures to presentations at Lee’s homes in Arlington and Stratford, Va., and at Civil War sites.

The 14-member commission, made up of six legislators and representatives from the state school system, tourism board and a number of heritage groups, is mostly involved in coordinating already existing events to create a yearlong package. The commission has an $18,000 budget.

“In essence, we’re trying to get all of Virginia involved in celebrating the life of this unique individual,” Mr. Cline said.

In recent years, state recognition of Confederate symbols has come under fire from minority groups, but Mr. Cline said the commission has not heard any protests about events honoring Lee.

“None at all,” he said. “I think that people recognize, especially in Virginia, that the life of Lee is more than just 1861-1865.”

Lee, a descendent of two brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and went on to serve in the U.S. Army for 32 years. He was offered command of the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War in 1861, but he resigned his commission to lead the Confederate Army.

After the war, he settled in Lexington, Va., where he served as president of Washington College, now known as Washington and Lee University.

While not solely honoring Lee, former Govs. George Allen and James S. Gilmore III, both Republicans, issued proclamations designating April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

In 2000, the Virginia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People threatened Mr. Gilmore with a call for a boycott if he continued the practice. Mr. Gilmore replaced that proclamation with one commemorating both sides in the Civil War.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, pledged to continue a policy begun by Gov. Mark R. Warner, also a Democrat, of not issuing a gubernatorial decree on either side of the Civil War.

A spokesman for Mr. Kaine did not return a phone call seeking comment about whether Mr. Kaine would participate in events honoring Lee.

As mayor of Richmond in 1999, Mr. Kaine supported a proposal to place a portrait of Lee on a floodwall along the city’s Canal Walk as part of an outdoor museum exhibit showcasing Richmond’s history. The issue drew protests from the black community, but the city council voted to allow the mural. Vandals burned it in January 2000, but it was quickly restored.

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