On Tuesday, President Trump told reporters at a bizarre press conference that there were some "very fine people" among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. He seemed to question the crusade to tear down memorials to titans of the Confederacy—offering at least credence, if not support, to the movement to preserve them.
But according to the Confederate general's own descendants, that very movement is at least partly responsible for spreading racism and hate. Robert E. Lee V and his sister, Tracy Lee Crittenberger, are both direct descendants of the general—and both voiced their opposition to the violence in Charlottesville that claimed one woman's life and left several people injured.
"We don't want people to think that they can hide behind Robert E. Lee's name and his life for these senseless acts of violence that occurred on Saturday," the general's great-great-grandson told Newsweek on Tuesday. "There's no place for that hate."
The nationwide debate over Confederate flags and monuments gained steam in 2015 after Dylann Roof's racially motivated shooting killed nine black church parishioners in South Carolina. Whereas those who have campaigned to remove the vestiges of the Confederacy argue they're a symbol of slavery, racism, and hatred, some see the monuments as a piece of history that shouldn't be erased.
At the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, however, the debate veered dramatically away from historical preservation. According to the New York Times, white nationalists chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans on Friday, and violence erupted between self-described white supremacists and counter-protesters throughout the weekend. The aftermath of the rally prompted leaders in several cities that still house Confederate statues to speed up the process of removing them, with Baltimore deciding to take down all of its remaining Confederate monuments Tuesday night.
According to the Huffington Post, the Lee siblings aren't the general's only heirs to denounce the violence Confederate monuments can cause. The general's great-great-great-great-nephew told HuffPo it "broke my heart to see a symbol of my family being used to allow such hate," and said the statue of his ancestor should come down.
For his part, Lee V suggested it might make sense to put the statue in a museum.
"I think that is absolutely an option, to move it to a museum and put it in the proper historical context," Lee told Newsweek. "Times were very different then. We look at the institution of slavery, and it's absolutely horrendous."
In a joint statement with his sister, Lee added that his ancestor "never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the KKK, or neo-Nazis."
"We the descendants of Robert E. Lee decry in the strongest terms the misuse of his memory by those advancing a message of intolerance and hate," they wrote in the statement. "As General Lee wrote in his diary, 'the great duty of life is the promotion of the happiness and welfare of our fellow man.'"
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