Oh boy! Did someone really try to do that? Yes, in the Gainesville Times Letters to the Editor.

Robert E. Lee who did not want former slaves to have a vote in the post Reconstruction Era gets praised equal to Martin Luther King who wanted every American to have an equal part in democracy.

King is called famous for “disobedience, disorder and civil unrest.” But Fred N. Chitwood thinks Lee should be praised for leadership in armed rebellion that claimed a million lives. Absolute violence versus non-violent protest? Praise war!

Fred Chitwood claims that Lee “completed his studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point without so much as one demerit. He is the only cadet to have accomplished this remarkable feat.”

In fact, the year that Lee graduated, five cadets passed without any demerits. Others who graduated without a single demerit are equals of Lee including these Civil War enemies, Generals George Meade and William T. Sherman. (The Journal of Military History 70.3 (2006), pp. 841-842)

Chitwood also claims Robert E. Lee “has no record of an attack on his character and integrity by either friend or foe.”

Mr. Chitwood has not done his homework on this issue, either. When given the task of executing the estate of George Washington Custis, Lee did not follow the spirit of the will. The will demanded the Custis slaves, all 196, be freed in the “most expedient and proper” manner. Lee, who had no ownership rights to the nearly 200 slaves, used them harshly as slaves, including having women stripped to the waste and whipped in public. The details of the harsh treatment included using the slaves at Arlington plantation and hiring them out for cash to other plantations. We can be certain that Custis was not giving Robert E. Lee use of the slaves but expected him to grant them freedom as soon as possible.

A very good bio of Lee done by Douglas Freeman can be found online here.

Robert E. Lee was a remarkable man but no where near the Chitwood’s saint of the South. Nor should we compare Lee to King.

Both did face death but Lee could see his enemies coming. King’s killer or killers struck from hiding.

Lee did not follow his country nor work for unity. He picked one state over the good of all states.

King lived and died to make a whole nation from a segregated nation.

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