Beating a Dead Traveller
You had to know that Brandon Dorsey, the local Confederate Heritage™ guy in Lexington, would be all over the Washington and Lee flag business, calling for the university to “return the mausoleum to the ownership of the Lee Memorial Association.” I’m not sure who Dorsey is talking about, as the Lee Memorial Association that originally funded the mausoleum appears to have furled its banner decades ago. There’s a present-day Robert E. Lee Memorial Association that operates Stratford Hall, that was begun in New York state and adopted its current name when it moved to Virginia in the 1970s, but that’s (1) clearly not the same group as in the 1880s, and (2) is one that has no claim, legal or otherwise, to the site at W&L.
Dorsey, who calls W&L President Ken Ruscio “the nations [sic.] most notorious grave robber,” has a pretty abysmal track record as a coordinator of protests going back to the Lexington flag ordinance in 2011. That ordinance passed easily, despite Dorsey’s efforts to bring in dozens of people from out of town to tell the Lexington City Council how to run their little city; his campaign to oust Mayor Mimi Elrod, that also relied heavily on people not actually from Lexington, came to naught in 2012 when Elrod won re-election by a wider margin than before; the lawsuit against the city he encouraged in federal court was a complete bust, and his ongoing boycott of the city has had no observable effect on the local tourist economy.
He did successfully coordinate the installation of a fiberglass statue of Stonewall Jackson with a sword in one hand and a golden cross in the other, by the same sculptor who did the dinosaurs-eating-Yankees amusement park, so there’s that.
Interestingly, in making his call for W&L to turn over the mausoleum to a private organization that appears not to exist, Dorsey cites the wording of the original 1882 agreement transferring the mausoleum to the school:
That upon the completion of the mausoleum and its inauguration under the auspices of this Association the title to, and the care and custody of, both the mausoleum and the marble statue of General Lee shall be vested in the corporation of Washington and Lee University, upon the sacred trust that the mausoleum shall be preserved as a perpetual place of sepulture for the remains of Gen. R. E. Lee, and of Mrs. Lee, and of such other members of their family as it maybe the pleasure of the family to have interred there, and that the building and statue shall receive from the authorities of the University such care and attention from time to time as shall be needful for their preservation; and upon the further trust that neither the mausoleum, nor the ground upon which it is erected, nor the statue and appurtenances of the mausoleum, shall ever be in any way, or to any extent, liable for any claim against, or debt of said University, or be charged with any mortgage, deed of trust, or other encumbrance.
Dorsey doesn’t explain why this particular passage is important, perhaps because it isn’t. Nothing Washington and Lee has done violates this agreement. They haven’t mortgaged the mausoleum, or put it up as collateral, or interfered with the interments of Lee and his family. They removed decorative flags that wouldn’t be added for almost another fifty years, as is their prerogative as owners of the Washington and Lee Chapel.
Everything I’ve read about Lee suggests to me that he abhorred flashy showmanship, and was more than a little uncomfortable with the fame and renown he achieved during his lifetime. As I said last week, he didn’t use his five years as president of Washington College to turn the school into the Confederate shrine some people today want it to be, and I genuinely believe he would be embarrassed by the desire by some to make his and his family’s resting place a shrine of quasi-religious veneration, a sort of Confederate Lourdes or a Dixified version of the Kaaba. I certainly don’t believe he would have any patience with the hair-on-fire shriekers who use his memory as an excuse to engage in the most vile sort of threats, name-calling and accusation in defense of Confederate Heritage. The real, live Robert Edward Lee, a Virginia patrician first and last, wouldn’t have had those people in his front parlor.