We spent the weekend with the Heart of Texas Camping Unit enjoying warm breezes off the Brazos River at Cedron Creek Park, an Army Corps of Engineers park located on the east side of Lake Whitney. The park has 65 sites on a tree-shaded hill that overlooks the lake, offering shelter from the warm breezes blowing across the Bazos river. About a dozen Airstreams dotted the shore, providing a glittering display among the live oak, post oak and blackjack oak woodlands. Throughout the weekend, we were visited by a large herd of white-tailed deer, grazing in the grasslands and darting about unafraid of barking dogs and ogling admirers.
We arrived with two new batteries, confident that someone among our company would help us exchange them for our nearly three-year-old set. At the same time, we were concerned about a small water leak we detected under our wheel well. As it turns out, our fellow HOTCer, Richard Knutson, provided not only good advice but also expert service, saving us a three- or four-week stay at our nearest Airstream service center. We’re now ready for our next big trip at the end of the month, to St. Louis, for Nephew Andy’s wedding. While there, we’ll also visit Jon’s mom and other nephew, and maybe get a look at his sister’s new apartment.
Campfire conversations can sometimes get contentious, and this weekend’s chat was no exception. Current news had everyone talking about the removal of Confederate memorials in general and Dallas’ Robert E. Lee statue in particular. We typically refrain from jumping into the fray, primarily because we don’t go camping to convert others to our viewpoint.
“They removed a piece of our history!” one member said. “Why do they keep removing signs of our proud Southern past?” another asked. “They should stay! They are trying to rewrite history by removing them!” another said.
When asked about building a monument to him and the Confederacy, General Lee himself wrote, in 1866, “As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
In other words, Lee believed countries that kept such symbols alive also kept deep divisions alive. Countries that erased visible signs of civil war recovered from conflicts more quickly.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, in October 1865, Lee appealed to President Andrew Johnson for amnesty. But he was not pardoned, nor was his citizenship restored. He died five years later, a traitor to the nation he rebelled against.
More than a century later, President Gerald Ford granted Lee amnesty, signing a congressional resolution, on July 24, 1975, correcting what he said was a 110-year oversight. It seems that Lee’s oath of allegiance never reached President Johnson’s desk. It was discovered in 1970, buried among other Civil War records in the National Archives.
Fast forward to 1975. The signing ceremony took place at Arlington House in Virginia, the former Lee family home. Several Lee descendants, including Robert E. Lee IV, a distillery executive in McLean, Va., attended. At that time, Texas was in the midst of a much-delayed federally mandated desegregation of the Dallas Independent School District and the resulting “white flight” from Dallas to its new outer suburbs.
So what should be done with the beautiful bronze sculpture of one of America’s most notorious traitors?
History is complicated, to be sure.
Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish statesman, once said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
In an attempt to know our history, we offer, as evidence, a few examples of “a piece of our history,” “a proud sign of our Southern past,” and an attempt “to rewrite history.”
Should Lee’s statue have been removed?
Let history decide.