A distant descendent of the famous Confederate general wrestles with his family’s legacy.
Lee IV (Stained-Glass Millennials, 2017) terms this memoir “my letter of love to a place that has shaped me” while acknowledging that such love hasn’t always been reciprocated and that he is likely to rile those who resist the call to heal the region’s abundant racial wounds. The author caused a significant stir when he broadcast his views on racism in the Southern church, creating a controversy that spurred his resignation from the North Carolina church where he had been pastor, his first such assignment, in a town unaccustomed to such scrutiny. (One wonders if the national media attention would have been as bright without Lee’s name recognition.) After a foreword by the Rev. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin, the author chronicles what it was like growing up in the South as a Lee, with a photo of the man they called “Uncle Bob” in his bedroom next to a Confederate flag. Though his parents were both progressive and pro-integration, he dealt with the mixed messages sent through his formative years with a black nanny, who would never sit at the table to eat a meal with him; his visits to Civil War memorials and battle re-enactments; and his realization that the man he had once idolized, and had been idolized throughout the region, had become “an idol of white supremacy…an idol of nationalism and of bigotry and of hate and of racism.” Things came to a head for the author, as they did for the nation, at Charlottesville in August 2017, where the battle over Confederate statues turned uglier and one woman lost her life. Lee received more calls to speak out, which caused him to lose his pulpit but gain a larger following.
Readers will sense that these hopeful passages are very early chapters in the young minister’s life story.