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Gen. Robert E. Lee descendant to speak at ACLU forum

By TERI FIGUEROA | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: October 21, 2017

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A descendant of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee will join a panel discussion in Carlsbad on Sunday for a forum on race, reconciliation and white privilege.

The Rev. Robert Lee IV is an indirect descendant, the general's great-great-great-great nephew. The 25-year-old with a famous name speaks out against racism, white supremacy and hate.

"The reason we are doing this forum is there is a different and better way to move about our lives," he said in a phone interview from his North Carolina home this week. "We do that by engaging in conversation – sometimes difficult conversation."

"If we bury it underground, it will get into our drinking water again," he said.

Sunday's forum, "White Perspectives on Understanding and Ending White Privilege," will revolve around race and reconciliation. It is being presented by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

It is free and open to the public.

"I hope that people who want to stand on the right side of history will come to this," Lee said.

The 25-year-old ordained minister and graduate of Duke Divinity School said he's been speaking out more broadly since white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters in the rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville.

A statue of Lee's famous relative was at the center of the conflict; the white nationalists were protesting its planned removal.

Lee made a brief appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 27, where he introduced the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who died in the Charlottesville clash when a white supremacist plowed a car into a crowd of protesters.

During his brief remarks, Lee said, in part, that people "have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin."

Lee was a pastor at a North Carolina church. In a statement posted online, Lee said that members of his church grew concerned about the attention the church had drawn, leading him to resign a few weeks after his MTV appearance.

Lee acknowledged this week that his name has given him a platform to speak out against injustice and hate.

"It (the name) catches peoples interest, but I want to be about more than just a name," he said. "I can't apologize for the past. I can't say I am sorry for what Robert E. Lee did because I am not Robert E. Lee."

He said he wants the focus to be on the fight against hate. And as for the figures of the general, Lee said he doesn't see them as statues.

"I see them as idols to white supremacism, and scripture makes it very clear that idols should be taken down," he said.

Lee said he thinks the takeaway from Sunday's forum should be that "you have to go back to your Thanksgiving tables and work places and address the racism that you see. Racism is real, and if we don't stop it, we are complicit."

Cheryl Alethia Phelps, communications director for the local ACLU chapter, said the forum is a chance for people "to understand what white privilege is and what its impacts are."

The last portion of the discussion will include audience participation.

The forum will be at the Pilgram United Church of Christ in Carlsbad. Pilgrim's Rev. Madison Shockley, who is also a board member of the local ACLU chapter, will moderate the discussion.

Retired United Methodist minister Cal Crider, also a board member, will take part on the panel.

Pilgrim United Church of Christ is at 2020 Chestnut Ave., Carlsbad. The 90-minute discussion starts at noon.

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An image of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Class of 1829, in a Civil War memorial display at West Point.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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