Virginia university to remove Confederate flags from chapel

Confederate flag

 (CNN) — Washington and Lee University cited slavery’s “regrettable” role in the Virginia school’s history and announced that it will remove Confederate battle flags from a chapel that serves as a major meeting place.

The decision was announced in a message Tuesday from university President Kenneth Ruscio following discussions of concerns raised by black students about the campus environment.

In 1826 the University — then Washington College — owned between 70 to 80 slaves and benefited from their labor, wrote Ruscio.

“Acknowledging that historical record — and acknowledging the contributions of those individuals — will require coming to terms with a part of our past that we wish had been different but that we cannot ignore,” Ruscio said.

Ruscio also said that the regimental flags are going to be removed from Lee Chapel. The flags are replicas of original and historic battle flags that were once at the site.

The university in Lexington is named for President George Washington and Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who later served as school president until his death in 1870. He is buried in a crypt beneath the landmark chapel.

The original flags will be placed on rotating display at Lee Chapel Museum in a more “appropriate location” where the stories behind them can be properly told, wrote Ruscio.

A group of black law students, referred to as “The Committee,” has been communicating with the administration about its concerns, leader Brandon Hicks said Wednesday.

Their letter began a dialogue between the students and the administration.

“It’s about creating a climate on campus that everyone feels welcome,” Hicks told CNN on why he sought the changes. He said some students felt uncomfortable with the flags at Lee Chapel.

“These are huge steps. We are ecstatic,” Hicks said of Ruscio’s announcement.

Black students comprise 2% of the undergraduate student body at Washington and Lee.

“It’s commendable that the university and the administration took into consideration the feelings of all students,” Hernandez Stroud, former president of the Black Law Students Association, told CNN.

“I think these are age-old issues that are as challenging as they are controversial and I think there are people all across the spectrum that understand no solution will please everyone. But I do think what was incredibly encouraging was the care the administration used with these issues,” Stroud said.

“Schools are more than just their history,” Stroud said.

In April, Ruscio said questions raised by law students were legitimate.

“Washington and Lee seeks to establish a climate of learning in which we treat all individuals with respect and trust. If even one person thinks that we have not met our aspiration in that regard, we must listen to them and examine why. We are doing so, and we will continue to do so,” he wrote.

In his letter Tuesday, the administrator said the purpose of the historic flags in a campus setting is to educate.

“They are not to be displayed for decoration, which would diminish their significance, or for glorification, or to make a statement about past conflicts,” he wrote. “The reproductions are not genuinely historic; nor are they displayed with any information or background about what they are. The absence of such explanation allows those who either ‘oppose’ or ‘support’ them to assert their own subjective and frequently incorrect interpretations.”

Stroud says he does not hold a grudge against Washington and Lee, because no institution is void of racism.

“I think going to school here knowing Lee and his history is like asking why you wouldn’t boycott the American dollar bill when George Washington was a slave owner.”

CNN’s Marisa Marcellino and David Shortell contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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19 comments

  • Robbie

    Hernandez Stroud, former president of the Black Law Students Association is happy. How about the president of the White LSA. That’s right, any whites only associations along with the confederate flag are racist. Oh well, at least Stroud doesn’t hold a grudge. I can sleep tonight knowing that now.

  • Bruce

    a small minority of the student body making”demands” of the university that they CHOSE to attend.Ok,get rid of the flags…I see no purpose for them these days.The University,in an act of contrition and political correctness complied.Another of the”demands” of this minority was that they expected Washington and LEE University to condemn Robert E.Lee.This the University declined to do.Good job! Listen,members of the”commitee”..you CHOSE to attend Washington and LEE and General Lee was a big part of your University.General Lee was a proud Virginian.He did his best as a military commander for his state and a flawed cause but he was a man of honor.If you are so miserable attending a University named for a Confederate general in a state that’s not ashamed of him,may I suggest a transfer?If you don’t appreciate where you are then,by all means,feel free to go somewhere else!

  • trina

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  • toni

    Tom you are the most ignorant mutherphucker on this site. You sit your old miserable a$$ behind the computer and complain everyday, all day like the white racist bytch that you are. You need to proof read before your dumb, ignorant a$$ hit hte reply button, Sit your old a$$ down and shut the phuck up!!!!

  • Jay

    Times have changed, for the better. The Johnston/Lee battle flag is no longer funny(ie. Dukes of Hazard) nor honorable. Its meaning has changed and now represents nothing short of hate. But, then again, that is its purpose. Those who pretend to honor some sort of heritage are simply fooling themselves. The fact is, a rather small percentage of Virginia residents can trace their families back to free CSA participants. Neither Johnston, nor Lee, flew this flag after the war.

      • Jay

        Good for you. You are now officially a minority member. Who cares? My ancestors were also on the losers side. I’ve TRIED to use that history lesson to be a better person.

    • B Addy

      I have lost all respect for the University. What a pitiful example of political correctness bullsh_t.

    • B Addy

      No Jay , you are the one fooling yourself. Hopefully you are not a native Virginian as you apparently don’t even know what the flag is. And yes , most native Virginians can trace their families back to the CSA. And neither Lee nor Johnston flew the flag after the war , because it was not the flag of the CSA.

  • Robbie

    Segregation is just not working. We have had since the 60’s to make it work. Separate but equal schools, courts etc are needed. An African American state should be created and funded by the white taxpayers. These are but a few ideas.

  • KG

    Bruce, I couldn’t have said it better! How about learning from history and not acting like it didn’t happen. If it wasn’t for Lee you wouldn’t have to worry about attending the university, you should be thanking him for saving it. We should be so lucky as to have leaders today that are half as honorable as Lee was. He made an agonizing decision to not turn his back on Virginia, our leaders today wouldn’t think twice about throwing us under the bus.

  • KG

    My family has been in Virginia since 1624 and we are proud of our heritage. They fought in the Revoluntionary War and they fought in the War Between the States because they loved Virginia. When the north started amassing their army they were left no other option but to protect their homeland. They were honorable men that fought for their home and families.

  • Robert McNabb

    Once again the ignorance of Political Correctness wins over truth. Those who complain the loudest about the “racism” of Lee and of the Battle Flag he fought under, exhibit an ignorance unparalleled in any era of our countries short life. They and their ink will not be satisfied until they have complete control over every thought or action of once free individuals and will tolerate none who do not think just as they do.

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