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King would not object to sharing a holiday with two noble proponents of African-American civil rights

Date published: 1/15/2008



As heretical as it may sound, I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would be honored, not disgusted, to share a holiday with the Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

Like King, Lee believed in achieving civil rights through peace, and felt that war was a violent misinterpretation of states' rights. Upon the emancipation of slaves, Lee said, "I am so fully satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained."

He fought for the South because he believed in loyalty to the state before the nation and in his state's right to run its own resources as its people chose. His fears for his state were not paranoid, either--events such as Union Gen. Sherman's "march to the sea," and the civil rights losses and retaliation between whites and blacks during Reconstruction support Lee's initial fears regarding the conflict that was thrust on him in the Civil War.

Quoting Lee's beliefs will convince no one, however, of his character--many a modern racist politician can cover up his tracks with pretty platitudes about equality.

Lee did not merely speak against racism, though--he released all his slaves 10 years before the war. Most of them stayed on at his plantation, and one even became his cook during the war.

Lee taught his family to appreciate people of other colors--like King's activists years later, Lee's daughter was arrested for violating Jim Crow laws in the South. According to the 1902 Cleveland Gazette, she reportedly "persisted in occupying a car set apart for Afro-Americans," and the mayor found her guilty of violating the law.

"Stonewall" Jackson did not speak much about slavery--he lived against it, instead.

Jackson did not understand what flaw of society placed people of color in positions of servitude--nor did he care what society said. He was known for being eccentric and forceful with his opinions, and he lived them out.

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