Here, somewhat condensed, are a few choice excerpts from what a Washington and Lee University graduate wrote in response to plans by that institution’s trustees to suppress salient legacies of its two eminent namesakes. His letter deserves broad circulation:
“I can not tell you how disappointed and appalled I was to read about the proposed changes to the life and character of our university.
“I recently read an interesting book about the history of the English monarchy. Almost one thousand years of history that includes rogues, villains, murderers, thieves, usurpers, bastards, and bigamists. Do you think the British people have removed the portraits of these characters from the walls of their institutions or pulled down the countless statues that have existed in their cities for generations? Absolutely not. It is their history, like it or not. They have done what all thinking individuals would do. They recognize the good and the bad. Have the Egyptians ever considered destroying the pyramids, one of the most monumental monuments to slavery in all the world?
“I have tried to live my entire adult life following a principle that I attribute to General Lee who said that a man needed only one rule to guide his life. ‘Live your life as a gentleman.' I cannot be proud of a university with a storied and historic past that willfully chooses to turn its back upon its own history, to pick and choose what history it will display to the world, to erase its significance in the history of American education.
“We all have a past. I can not change mine to make myself more presentable to you. Neither can a university. They should embrace their past, recognize and examine it as historians do, accept and acknowledge its importance in the lives of so many, capitalize on that rich history.”