As we make final preparations for the Lee-Jackson weekend in Lexington, Virginia, we thought it would be helpful to offer a recap of the series of events that have taken place at Washington & Lee University, which have led us to gather at the university in protest this weekend…
Washington & Lee Chapel Desecration
“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight” Psalm 144:1 A Psalm of David, and a favorite of General Robert Edward Lee.
In 1930, 12 Confederate Battle Flags were placed in the statue chamber of the LEE Chapel at Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Va, by the Virginia Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, as a memorial to Gen. Robert E. Lee, and to represent the men who served under his command. By 1997, it was wisely determined that the remaining original flags should be restored and conserved, and 8 replica flags were placed in the chamber, ensuring the integrity of the memorial will be protected.
In April of 2014, a group of 6 minority Law students at Washington and Lee University issued a list of demands to W&L University officials, which included the removal of Confederate Battle Flags from the LEE Chapel, prohibiting the Sons of Confederate Veterans from holding a Memorial Service in the LEE Chapel on the Lee-Jackson holiday, and insisting the University publicly denouncing the character of Robert E. Lee.
The story as it broke:
W&L President Kenneth Ruscio responded here:
The Va Flaggers immediately issued a response, called for letters to be written to Washington & Lee officials, and began to organize students and alumni to prevent University officials from caving to the outrageous demands.
Our response: http://www.vaflaggers.com/wl.pdf
The extortion letter from “The Committee”:
?In May of 2014, we reported that the administration at Washington and Lee reported that they were receiving a “significant” amount of correspondence regarding the demands of “The Committee”. We received copies of many outstanding letters and thanked those who had taken the time to write, email, or call regarding their outrage and concern.
At that point, one meeting between W&L leadership and “The Committee” had taken place, and, thankfully, none of the “demands” were met. We were encouraged, but felt we needed to remain vigilant, and asked that the letter/email/phone call campaign continue. As school dismissed for the summer, our alumni and student body sources felt confident that the administration had no plans to capitulate to the outlandish demands.
Little did we know that President Ruscio had most likely already made his decision, and was waiting for summer, when the student body was not on campus and many alumni would be on holiday, to commit the unspeakable act.
On July 8th, 2014, Washington & Lee University President Kenneth P. Ruscio announced that the University would ignore the will of countless alumni, students, and citizens, and bow to the demands of 6 agitators, and desecrate the Lee Chapel by removing the Confederate Battle Flags from the mausoleum of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“Washington and Lee University will remove Confederate flags from its Lee Chapel after a group of black students led protests arguing that the Virginia school was unwelcoming to minorities.”
We immediately put out a call for letters/emails/phone calls to begin, and began planning for future protest flaggings. We compiled a list of Alumni Chapters and contacts, and contacted a number of students who had reached out to us for help. Once again, we received copies of dozens of emails, and had reports of hundreds of phone calls that were made. Each phone call and email helped to keep the pressure on as we continued to pursue the issue from several angles, and develop detailed plans for protests and further action.
Some of you were kind enough of to share the canned reply that you received. It seems that the administration believed that they could explain away the flag removal, in the hopes that folks would take them at their word and give up the fight.
One of the main issues that President Ruscio and others used as a defense for the removal was the agreement between the UDC, The Museum formerly known as the Museum of the Confederacy, and the University. We have been able to secure a copy of this agreement, and while it does call for the removal of the original battle flags for restoration, and for the flags to be properly displayed in glass cases in the museum in the basement of the Chapel, it in NO WAY dictates that the reproduction flags, provided by the SCV as a replacement for the originals, must be removed from the Chapel.
The referenced agreement was made in 1997, and yet they expected us to believe that it just so happens that they decided to take the reproduction flags out of the Chapel in July of 2014, as part of a new agreement with the Museum formerly known as the Museum of the Confederacy, not to appease “The Committee”. Do not be fooled by this smokescreen.
The flags were stripped from the Chapel memorial by the end of that week, as the chamber was reported to be empty by those who visited on Saturday, July 12th.
It seemed that the staff was doing their very best to draw attention away from the fact that this decision was a surrender to the extortion-like threats of the member of “The Committee”, who promised “civil disobedience” if the flags were not removed bySeptember 1st. Their spin and propaganda was hard to swallow, especially in light of some new information that the Va Flaggers had discovered.
Other than the letter itself we heard very little from the students, until the announcement July 8 by W&L President Ruscio that the school had caved to the demands and stripped the flags from the memorial. Since then, the leader of the Committee, Brandon Hicks, spoke openly to the press, telling CNN:
“It’s about creating a climate on campus that everyone feels welcome,” Hicks told CNN on why he sought the changes. He said some students felt uncomfortable with the flags at Lee Chapel. “These are huge steps. We are ecstatic,” Hicks said of Ruscio’s announcement.
“Huge steps”? As in just the beginning…? What will these students demand next? Now that they have won an easy victory, there is little doubt that they will stop their campaign of hate and discrimination, and will not be satisfied until every mention of Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy is removed from the school which he personally saved from extinction and which owes much to the Confederate veterans who helped build it into the University we know today.
“Students don’t have to sit in the same room as the flags anymore. I feel like we made a tremendous difference.” Brandon Hicks
Now, I have had the pleasure and honor of worshiping in the LEE Chapel on several occasions, and I can testify that this statement is not true. First of all, the flags were in a chamber, behind the pulpit, at the rear of the Chapel. There is no seating in that room. The photo below depicts the view from the seating in the Chapel, itself. Clearly, students NEVER sat “in the same room as the flags”, although I would argue that they SHOULD be made to sit there, and taught the TRUTH of what the flags stand for. Nevertheless, this is further proof of the distortion of truth these students are using, in their efforts to eliminate our heritage.
Once he spoke to the press and posed for the photo, we were able to find out much more about Mr. Hicks. Mr. Hicks, it turns out, is quite the activist, having been a speaker at “Race for the Ballot,” a forum against a proposed family marriage act, in NC. Reports Pam’s House Blend, “One of the kickoff sites is North Carolina Central University’s Student Union and Law School, which hosted a forum moderated by student leader of NCCU’s LGBT group COLORS, Brandon Hicks…”
We can only hope that this new information will serve to motivate alumni, students, and citizens to realize that this effort was nothing more than the manipulative work of “professional activists”, attempting to force their views and intolerance on the rest of the University, AND the rest of us. The Chapel in which Lee’s remains are interred may be deeded to the University, but it BELONGS to all of us who love General Lee, the South, and freedom.
On July 24, days before an SCV rally was planned for Lexington, we reported the following announcement by W&L officials:
We regret to announce that Lee Chapel and Museum will be closed from Friday, July 25 at 3:00 p.m. through Sunday July 27.. This unscheduled closing is based on concerns for the safety of the facility and its staff on the day that the Sons of Confederate Veterans have scheduled a rally in Lexington. We must take this unfortunate precaution because of the inflammatory and threatening letters, emails and phone calls the University has received in response to the removal of reproduction battle flags from the statue chamber in Lee Chapel and the decision to bring authentic battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum. We apologize for this inconvenience.
This announcement was an obvious attempt on the part of Washington & Lee University to incite unwarranted anger and misplaced fear towards the honorable members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. We called on the administration to do the honorable thing! If there is a viable, traceable threat, then have the guilty arrested… and show their face and name on all media outlets. Without proof, this announcement is nothing more than slander and innuendo designed to defame the excellent character of the men of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Even the wording in the statement rang of their attempts to cover their actions. We know for a fact that NO ONE was complaining that they were bringing “authentic battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum”. We applaud this effort. The only complaint is that they are using THAT action as a smoke screen and excuse to remove the replica flags from the chamber, when in fact, the desecration was done solely to appease the demands of six students who threatened “civil obedience”.
Based on this inflammatory claim, the Va Flaggers filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with Lexington’s City Manager, asking for copies of any communications between W&L officials and law enforcement regarding any threats received. As might be expected…we were subsequently informed that there were no reports and/or communications regarding any type of threats having been made or received.
On the day of the rally, the Virginia Flaggers arrived at the LEE Chapel entrance to Washington & Lee University at 10:00 a.m., to find that our Tar Heel brothers had been first to have boots on the ground. The men of the Old North State had a GREAT representation on the front lines, and joined us for most of the day.
We also arrived to find that W&L Security had barricaded off the entrance to the Chapel parking lot. It was not long, however, before the Flaggers realized that traffic cones make GREAT flag stands! Foot and auto traffic was heavy around the Chapel all day, and feedback was almost 100% positive and in support of our efforts to return the Confederate Battle Flags to the RE LEE Chapel.
There were many great conversations, and opportunities to educate the public. Here is one young man’s story, in the words of a 15 year old attendee:
“We started off the day flagging in front of Washington and Lee. We flagged for 20 minutes or so until a friend and I decided to go see VMI. On the way to VMI , we got many honks, waves, and signs of support for the Battle Flags we were carrying. We got to VMI and walked all around the campus until we found the statue of “Stonewall” Jackson. We took a picture of me in front of Jackson with my Battle Flag.
We left VMI and went to the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. There I got to visit the General and talk to a nice family from Pennsylvania. I told them about the history of the Battle Flag and Washington and Lee’s decision to remove the flags from the Lee Chapel. They were very understanding and nice. After I visited Stonewall we went to the SCV rally in Hopkins Green Park. There I had conversations with Wayne Jones and Rev Herman White.
We left the rally early to go back to flagging in front of Washington and Lee. Since it was my first time in Lexington I wanted to see the Lee Chapel and the grave of Lee’s horse Traveller. As I began to head for the Lee Chapel, a Police Officer stopped me and said that I could not enter the campus property with my Battle Flag or any images of Confederate Flags on any of my possessions including my clothing. I really wanted to pay my respects to General Lee and Traveller so I had to turn my shirt inside-out, take off my hat, and take off my badge.
When I finally arrived to the Chapel there was a sign on the front door saying that the Lee Chapel was closed for the weekend. I took a picture of the Lee Chapel and then went to see Traveller. I was glad to see that I had access to the grave of Traveller. I talked to 3 different couples while I was on the campus and they were all very supportive. I told each couple why I was there and why my shirt was inside-out.
When I got off of the campus and back on to the sidewalk I flagged for the rest of the day. At least 2 out of every 3 cars would wave, honk, or salute us. One man who was walking down the sidewalk gave me a “Confederate fist-bump” to show his support for the Flaggers.
We had two interesting conversations while we were on our way to the car. The first was with a family from the great state of Missouri. They were very supporting of our efforts and were against the removal of the flags that were in the Lee Chapel. The second was a man from the Richmond Times-Dispatch who asked why I was out there, my name, and if I was related to any Confederate soldiers. He took my picture with my Battle Flag and said that I should be in the paper tomorrow!
Fred talked to the owner of a local ice cream shop. At the end of there conversation the owner gave Fred free Ice Cream to show his support for our efforts. Overall it was a VERY successful day for the Virginia Flaggers.”
This young man, a 15 year old member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and proud descendant of several Confederate Ancestors, was told he could not enter the campus of Washington and LEE University without removing his “offensive” apparel, which consisted of:
– A Lee-Davis High School cap
– A Sons of Confederate Veterans Sesquicentennial Commemorative T-Shirt
– And a name badge on a lanyard which had Confederate Battle Flags printed on it
The implications of these restrictions are far reaching and mind-boggling. Is the Confederate Battle Flag now prohibited in any form at the campus? Are students prohibited from wearing a label pin, or t-shirt, or cap, if it has a Confederate Battle Flag on it? Are students prohibited from possessing or displaying a Confederate flag? Is a vehicle with a government issued SCV license plate prohibited access to the campus?
We found it the worst kind of intolerance and bigotry that the University administration had chosen to openly discriminate against those of Confederate Ancestry…on the campus of a school that owes its very existence to the Gen. Robert E Lee, and the Confederate Veterans who helped save the institution.
Almost as soon as his story broke, several amateur historians/bloggers immediately called his story false, labeled it a “publicity stunt” and used it to continue their campaign of slander and false attacks against the Va Flaggers and the SCV.
At the same time, when asked for a statement by the press, W&L officials DENIED THE INCIDENT EVER TOOK PLACE, effectively joining the bloggers in their chorus of hate, and calling the boy a liar.
“Meanwhile, university officials initially denied the allegations being brought against it. Brian Eckert, the spokesperson for Washington and Lee, stated there is no indication the incident took place.”
However, on THE FOLLOWING DAY, the University admitted that because of “safety” reasons they forced 4 people “not to carry or wear Confederate flags or emblems on the campus.” We never ONCE doubted the honesty or integrity of this young man! SHAME ON Washington & Lee for trying to cover up their misconduct, and for impugning the character of a 15 year old boy! HE told the truth. THEY did not. Is it any wonder such men have no regard for the honor and integrity of Robert E. Lee?
In 2015, officials at Washington & Lee catered to the final demand of the six agitators when they announced that the Stonewall Brigade, SCV would no longer be allowed to use the RE LEE Chapel for their annual Robert E. Lee Memorial Service, which had been held each year, on the day set aside to honor his memory. Thankfully, students at W&L will no longer risk the chance of being harmed by the sight of men and women, some in period attire, gathering to honor Robert E. Lee.
Join us on Friday, January 15th, and Saturday, January 16th, for Flagging in Lexington, Virginia, and be a part of those taking a stand for our ancestors, and in defense of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
RETURN the flags!
RESTORE the honor!