Rev. Robert Lee IV is the great-great-great-nephew of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and he says that taking down Confederate symbols in public spaces is a “no brainer.”
“I see them as idolatries… They have been created into idols of white supremacy and racism,” Lee told ABC News.
“This is a no brainer. This is an issue of justice and of peace,” he said. “[If] we want peace in our time and the ability to [have] equality … we must do that by addressing the monuments not only in stone and in bronze, but elsewhere as well.”
Lee spoke to ABC News in the wake of NASCAR's ban on Confederate Flags from its racetracks earlier this month and several Confederate statues being taken down. On Tuesday night, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves officially removed the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag.
“I didn’t see this happening in my lifetime. This is an incredible opportunity to seek justice, to try to right the wrongs of the past by seeking redemption and atonement for all of these things that have been wrong,” Lee said. “This is the first domino of many dominos to fall that can really shape the way we view our future.”
Lee said he grew up with the flag hanging in his bedroom.
“I celebrated the fact that I was related to the man who was the standard bearer for that flag,” he said. “But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that there is an importance to address what’s going on now and to see it for what it is -- white supremacy and racism have been the basis for the celebration of that flag for a long time.”
He credits a woman named Bertha Hamilton with counseling him before he became a reverend.
“[She] said ‘Sweetie, I know you’re going to be called to ministry … but if you want to be called to ministry, you can’t have that flag in your room,” he said. “I felt that day… I can’t have a symbol of divisiveness in my room -- in my bedroom -- a place where I rest my head.”
He says removing Confederate symbols has become a “personal issue." He wants to address the issue “not only for my namesake’s sake but also [because of] the reality that this is about more than just me.”
Historians note that Lee’s ancestor was a brilliant general. But what parts of his history should be honored?
“Robert E. Lee meant a lot to me ... there was some sense of being proud to be a Lee,” he said.
He said he ultimately came to believe that “there’s no distinction between fighting for your home state, which was ultimately for the state’s right to enslave people."
"Even if he was fighting for his home state of Virginia, he was fighting for the continued enslavement of black people," he said. "That to me is just not something that we can have in our city squares, that’s not something we can have in our schools, that’s not something we can celebrate."