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Rev. Robert W. Lee facing scrunity after Washington Post fact check claims he isn't related to Robert E. Lee
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Rev. Robert W. Lee facing scrunity after Washington Post fact check claims he isn't related to Robert E. Lee

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Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV speaks at a press conference at the Iredell County Government Center on Tuesday in Statesville.

The Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV speaks at a press conference at the Iredell County Government Center on Tuesday in Statesville.

What’s in a name? Plenty, when you share the name of a famous Civil War general. The Rev. Robert W. Lee of Statesville, who believes he is a distant relative of Robert E. Lee, is embattled after a fact check by the Washington Post which states he is not a descendant of the famous Virginia military leader.

In response, Lee posted a statement on his social media addressing the issue, beginning with: “What needs to be said cannot be fully articulated in a social media post, but I will try.”

“I stand by the records I have seen and worked with. They are not mine to share. Family dynamics are at play, and after a column in 2016 and 2020 in the Washington Post, we believed we had provided enough verification,” Lee wrote. “My mission and ministry has been confronting white supremacy as a sin. Regardless of whether you believe me or the article, the fact remains that either lineage participated and profited from racism and slavery. That ends with me.

“If you feel I have sought fortune for this I can assure you that was never the case. If you feel this discredit me or breaks trust, I’m sorry. And, for distraction and de-centering voices of color, I’m sorry.”

“In support of the fullness of the movement and mission, I believe I have addressed this with all upcoming events and will be taking some time away. This isn’t about me, it’s about the great love of God that demands we face our own complicity and heritage for a better future.”

Lee didn’t respond to the Record & Landmark’s request for further comment.

The Statesville Record & Landmark had not referred to Lee as a descendant of Robert E. Lee since 2019 but had previously noted his claim in articles before then.

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In the aftermath of the Washington Post fact check, Lee removed himself from the recent lawsuit that aims to have the Iredell Confederate Memorial moved to another location.

“My lineage is unrelated to the merits of the lawsuit seeking relocation of Iredell County’s Confederate Monument. Because I do not want anything related to me to be a distraction to that effort, I have decided to no longer serve as one of several plaintiffs in the case,” Lee said through a statement shared through David Parker, a local attorney involved in the lawsuit.

The fact check

In the Washington Post’s fact check, it is noted that Lee had used his ancestry toward the cause of removing Confederate statues and memorials, much like the one at the Iredell County Government Center. He was previously listed as one of the plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit against the Iredell County Confederate Memorial but has since withdrawn.

But as Lee himself noted, the Washington Post said he hadn’t claimed to be a direct descendant of Lee but believes Lee was a distant relative, making the local reverend a great-great-great-great nephew of the general. Lee corrected Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on one occasion and others who confused the relation when introducing him.

The Washington Post claims there is no evidence of a direct relation after reviewing historical and genealogical records. The newspaper focused on Lee’s claim that he was connected to Robert E. Lee through Charles Carter Lee, the general’s older brother. Lee said the famous general was referred to as “Uncle Bob” by his family.

However, the Washington Post could not find a connection to the famous Lee family in Virginia through any of Charles Carter Lee’s five sons. The newspaper found the reverend’s family could be related to a Lee family in Alabama, not Virginia. The Lee family of Alabama also had connections to slavery and the Confederacy, but none to the famous Virginia family.

The Washington Post said Lee did not acknowledge its request for evidence of his connection to Robert E. Lee, nor did calls to his father. The newspaper said Chris Hollinger, an attorney at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, which filed the lawsuit against the Iredell Confederate Memorial, wouldn’t discuss if Lee’s claim had been investigated, but noted the Washington Post itself had previously repeated the claim.

Ultimately, the Washington Post said Lee may believe he is a relative, “But, without new evidence that confirms his claim, the pastor should not state he is related to Robert E. Lee, especially in legal filings — and news organizations should not echo this claim.”

Follow Ben Gibson on Facebook and Twitter at @BenGibsonSRL

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