General Lee's Greatest Victory

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“It’s a warm spring Sunday at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. As the minister is about to present Holy Communion, a tall well-dressed black man sitting in the section reserved for African Americans unexpectedly advances to the communion rail; unexpectedly because this has never happened here before.

The congregation freezes. Those who have been ready to go forward and kneel at the communion rail remain fixed in their pews. The minister stands in his place stunned and motionless. The black man slowly lowers his body, kneeling at the communion rail.

After what seems an interminable amount of time, an older white man rises. His hair snowy white, head up, and eyes proud, he walks quietly up the isle to the chancel rail.

So with silent dignity and self-possession, the white man kneels down to take communion along the same rail with the black man.

Lee has said that he has rejoiced that slavery is dead. But this action indicates that those were not idle words meant to placate a Northern audience. Here among his people, he leads wordlessly through example. The other communicants slowly move forward to the altar with a mixture of reluctance and fear, hope and awkward expectation. In the end, America would defy the cruel chain of history besetting nations torn apart by Civil War.”

From “April 1865:  the Month that Saved America”

Racial hatred has been the besetting curse of America.  Robert E. Lee made a step that day to end it.  With the election of Senator Obama as President, a calamity for the unborn and, I believe, for the nation, one can at least hope that racial bigotry has been wounded if not slain.

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  1. My Dad was always an admirer of Robert E. Lee, and I agree that he was definitely a class act. as we would say. Some years ago, I visited the campus of Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and saw the Lee Family crypt, as well as the General’s office, which was left as it was during his tenure as president of the University. He was, in every sense of the word, a true Southern gentleman. Would that there were many more like him.

  2. Donald,

    I remember reading this in Warren Carrol’s History of Christendom about General Lee. Just as Jay I became a bit emotional when I first read this.

    Thanks for posting this today in your column.

  3. Beautiful story. As a native Virginian, I’ve always had a particular fondness for Robert E. Lee, although it seems to me that his decision to fight for the South probably led to a longer war. According to Wikipedia, he’s a descendant of St. Thomas More…had not heard that before.

  4. I first read this in a book called Lee: The Last Years. I highly recommend reading this. Most histories end the story of Lee at Appomattox but this book starts there and gives the rest of the story of his life. Fascinating and admirable man.

  5. This is, indeed, a great story–one of my favorites about General Lee. I used this same anecdote in a recent lecture on “The Episcopal Church in North Carolina During the War Between the States.” However, I was a bit taken aback by your gratuitous criticism of President Obama. You had cited his election as proof of America’s racial progress. The sort of off-the-cuff comment–“a calamity for the unborn, and, I believe, for the nation”–detracted from the overall effect of your essay. Whether Obama is a great president or a terrible president has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee.

  6. “The sort of off-the-cuff comment–”a calamity for the unborn, and, I believe, for the nation”–detracted from the overall effect of your essay. Whether Obama is a great president or a terrible president has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee.”

    I call ’em like I see ’em E.T., both in history and in politics.

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