In many ways, the name Robert E. Lee has become forever linked to Southern pride and the Confederate States of America. Due to the CSA’s fight to maintain the practice of slavery, Lee has also been linked to racism and white supremacy. However, many of Lee’s actions after the end of the war suggest that his association with these ideas may not be entirely justified.
Though Lee did not win the war for the South, post-war southerners still viewed him as an idol and a hero. Because of his god-like status, Lee had the ability to influence the actions and beliefs of many southerners. On one Sunday morning in Richmond, Lee exercised this power to show his acceptance of the new social order that the Union victory established.
On this particular Sunday morning, Lee attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, V.A. The church service progressed as usual until it was time for communion. When the call to communion was made, an unknown black man rose from his pew in the back of the church and made the long walk down the aisle to the front of the church where he proceeded to kneel at the communion rail.
The members of the church were shocked by this act and remained seated, unsure of what to do. Then, Robert E. Lee rose from his pew. He strode down the center aisle and knelt down next to black man, and the two received communion together. After this act, the rest of the congregation followed suit and took communion.
Though this may seem like a small act when compared to the many battles Lee led in order to preserve the Confederate States and the institution of slavery, I think it speaks volumes about the kind of man Robert E. Lee was. It is actions like this that show Lee’s acceptance of the new way of life brought forth by the Union victory and prove he meant it when he said at the war’s end:
“Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian. After the war I became an American.”