LANHAM, Md. (WNEW/AP) — In an open letter to the Washington and Lee University community dated Tuesday, President Kenneth P. Ruscio said that the Confederate flags that have been a point of contention on campus will be removed.
Ruscio declined, however, to apologize for the university’s partial namesake’s participation in slavery.
In April, Ruscio and members of the Board of Trustees received a letter from 12 law school students expressing concerns about the climate for “students of color” at Washington and Lee.
The students issued several demands, including that the school immediately remove all Confederate flags from its property, including those flags located within Lee Chapel, and issue an official apology for the University’s participation in slavery and a denunciation of Robert E. Lee’s participation in slavery.
Lee became president of the college in 1865, the same year he famously surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
In a letter issued to the university community shortly after those demands were made, Ruscio wrote that the students “had raised important questions that relate to ongoing discussions at the University” and promised that the discussion would continue.
The latest letter from Ruscio says, while the flags are not displayed for “glorification” or “to make a statement about past conflicts”, they will be removed.
The flags that currently hang in Lee Chapel are reproductions of originals that originally came to the school in 1930. The authentic flags were the property of the Museum of the Confederacy, now part of the American Civil War Museum, which asked the school return them in the 1990s.
However, the absence of an explanation of the flags in the chapel “allows those who either ‘oppose’ or ‘support’ them to assert their own subjective and frequently incorrect interpretations,” Ruscio writes.
“Consequently, we will remove these reproductions from their current location and will enter into an agreement with the American Civil War Museum, in Richmond, to receive on loan one or more of the original flags, now restored, for display on a rotating basis in the Lee Chapel Museum, the appropriate location for such a display.”
As for issuing an apology for the University’s participation in slavery, Ruscio says “the University will continue to study its historic involvement with slavery” and acknowledges that it “was a regrettable chapter” of the school’s past.
Ruscio says of Lee that he “was an imperfect individual living in imperfect times” and that “he will not apologize for the crucial role (Lee) played in shaping (the university).”
One of the law students, 24-year-old student Brandon Hicks, said Wednesday he’s “very excited about the direction that the university is moving in.” The group had vowed civil disobedience if the demands were not met.
“There’s still work to be done but it’s very encouraging that action was taken so swiftly,” he said.
Student Anjelica Hendricks, 23, said she hopes the move would foster more dialogue on campus and make it a more inclusive place.
“Discussions of race and oppression are uncomfortable topics to be had (but) we risk greater consequences by electing not to have them,” Hendricks added.
But defenders of the Confederacy likened the school’s actions to taking the American flag from Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb.
“The university has lost its credibility and honor and desecrated the grave of an American icon,” said Brandon Dorsey, a commander with the Lexington brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “If (the students) didn’t want to be offended by Lee’s legacy, they could’ve chosen some place that wasn’t so obviously associated with him.”
To see Ruscio’s full remarks, click here.
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