An April 25 front-page Washington Times article by Robert Stacy McCain asked, "[H]as political correctness turned Robert E. Lee into a villain?" The article, headlined "Symposium to honor Lee, villain or 'the noblest ever'?" reported that six historians will debate the question at a "symposium commemorating the bicentennial of the Confederate commander's birth," which "[m]ore than 200 have registered to attend." McCain also quoted Brag Bowling, a "Richmond resident who helped organize" the symposium, saying, "Hostility to Confederate heritage 'has really gotten bad in the last decade.' " McCain has also written articles for the Times with the headlines, " 'Gentle ladies' of South keep Lee's legacy alive; Will mark Confederate leader's birthday" and "How the Democrats made loving Dixie a hate crime."
As Media Matters for America noted, Washington Times Editor-in-Chief Wesley Pruden is outspoken in his sympathy for neo-Confederate causes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in 1998 he made a speech to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, in which he declared, "Southerners ... hold loyalty to two countries in our hearts." The second country is one "baptized 137 years ago on this very field in the blood of First Manassas, a country no longer at the mercy of the vicissitudes in the tangled affairs of men, a country that lives within us, a country that will endure for as long as men and women know love. ... God bless America, God bless the Confederate States of America, and God bless you all."
Further, Media Matters has noted that McCain, who is the assistant national editor at the Times, is a member of the League of the South, which the SPLC called "rife with white supremacists and racist ideology." The league's leader, J. Michael Hill, once declared: "The day of Southern guilt is over -- THE SOUTH WAS RIGHT -- and let us not forget that salient fact. NO APOLOGIES FOR SLAVERY should be made. In both the Old and New Testaments slavery is sanctioned and regulated according to God's word." As the SPLC has noted, in 1998 McCain wrote a glowing obituary of former segregationist politician George Wallace for the Times in which he cited three history professors, not disclosing that all of them belonged to the League of the South.
In one of many examples of McCain's postings on right-wing discussion sites that journalist Michelangelo Signorile has documented, McCain wrote the following in 2005 on a website called Reclaiming the South:
[T]he media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion. The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us.
From the April 25 Washington Times article:
Winston Churchill called him "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived," and Theodore Roosevelt called him "the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth."
But has political correctness turned Robert E. Lee into a villain? That will be the question explored by six historians this weekend at a symposium commemorating the bicentennial of the Confederate commander's birth.
"We were afraid that Lee would not receive the honors he should get because of the prevailing political correctness," says Brag Bowling, a Richmond resident who helped organize Saturday's event at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Arlington.
The symposium will be the largest event of its kind this year honoring Lee, who was born Jan. 19, 1807.
The event site was chosen in part to be near the former Lee family home in Arlington (which now overlooks Arlington National Cemetery). He and his wife, Mary Custis Lee, were married there in 1831, and Mrs. Lee inherited her grandfather's mansion on his death in 1857.
The symposium site was chosen because of its proximity to Washington.
"We wanted to take this to the nation's capital," says Mr. Bowling, a national board member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is hosting the symposium. More than 200 have registered to attend.
"They're coming in from all over the country," he says. "I had one phone call ... from some guy in Norway. We've got people coming from California, Texas, Massachusetts -- all over the country, and from Canada."
Lee, the son of Revolutionary War hero "Light Horse Harry" Lee, was born in Westmoreland County, Va., and graduated from West Point. He served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, distinguishing himself in the Mexican War as an aide to Gen. Winfield Scott.
Lee, who freed the slaves his wife inherited from the Custis family, called slavery "a moral and political evil" and opposed secession. After Virginia seceded in 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army rather than bear arms against "my native state."
Hostility to Confederate heritage "has really gotten bad in the last decade," says Mr. Bowling, who says that political correctness in academia and in the press often leads to "dishonoring Confederate soldiers and ignoring the true reasons why the South wished to secede."