Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Perspective on Robert E. Lee

Reading over my post from last Sunday, I couldn't stop thinking about a spot from a History Channel documentary on the final month of the war and the impact Robert E. Lee had on the healing of the war's many wounds. Of course, no brief posting can adequately capture the essence of Lee or hope to summarize his person and character. Those who seek to rightfully challenge his post-war deification often underscore his turning a blind eye to the capturing and selling of free blacks during the Gettysburg Campaign. However, the History Channel's account of the former General's actions after the war certainly offers a different perspective. I have transcribed a portion of that documentary below. After reviewing it several times, I'm confident I have made no errors or omissions of the narration accompanying the description of Lee's actions one day after his surrender at Appomattox. However, any errors discovered would be strictly my own. Now from "April 1865: The Month That Saved America". (The History Channel, Copyright 2003)

"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."

I don't think there is anything I can add that speaks louder than his actions that day.



PS: If you are interested, the History Channel has this DVD for sale at their web site.

All original material Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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