Virginia university to remove Confederate flags from chapel

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(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.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.


    • steve

      It’s not even history – that isn’t the Confederate flag and the Civil War wasn’t over slavery. See Matt’s comment below for more of an explanation.

  • Matt Moore

    First of all. That isn’t the confederate flag. That is the northern Virginia battle flag. The confederate flag is White with the stars and bars in the upper left corner. Second of all, the civil war had nothing to do with slavery, The north and south both owned slaves, DUH!!. The war was about territories. This flag represents the original thirteen colonies wanting to succeed from the Union, Because the people of the south did not agree with the policies of the Union. Sort of the same situation we have in America today with the whole people vs state thing that we have going on. it’s the same concept. The only people that ever associated this flag with Racism were those White trash Rednecks known as the K.K.K and Black folks that remain ignorant to what this flag truly represents and only know the hate these rednecks push. And then you have universities jumping on the propaganda bandwagon rather then teaching the truth behind the flag. But i don’t expect schools to teach anything other then then what benefits the status-quo. Lets not promote ideas of individual thought and critical thinking and teach people the true history of their own country. Yeah we can’t have that can we?

    • steve

      ^5, Matt. Pretty much what I was getting ready to say. It’s refreshing to see others actually learning history rather than buying into the propaganda that’s being spoon fed under the guise of education.

      I would add just one point. You mentioned that the Civil War was about disagreement with Union policies. My understanding of the history distilled down to a fight over sovereignty of the states… pretty much the same thing but looking through a somewhat different window.

      Anyway, kudos for learning our history! It’s a shame what folks have done to our education system. Seems like Orwell’s Ministry of Truth at times.

    • Frank

      Good job Matt….perfectly said. What about how the 98 percent of people on this campus feel? Nothing said about that by the university. Racism is being kept alive by these very things that keep popping up in America by those who do not want it to go away….and these are a very few. We can teach that it was wrong in our history classes, but that is where it needs to stay. Our public media escalates these things to a whole new level, and it is ridiculous. What about the Chinese people who were also slaves, you don’t hear anything from them like this. Being a university, you should have done your homework on the different types of flags that were used during that period. You have done nothing here except to show disrespect to the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives for their beliefs….and it was not slavery.

    • DieselEMD

      This is 100 percent true. They do not teach this in school anymore. Crying shame 2 percent of the idiots can dictate what happens. But try to stop them from building a Mosque and see what happens.

  • Frank

    Since you have disrespected General Lee, you might as well change the name of the university too. He was a Confederate General who led with this very flag into the field of battle. Let’s go ahead and change the American flag too while we are at it, about 1 percent of the population doesn’t like it. I followed it for 20 years of my own life in the Navy protecting everyone else’s rights….to come back home to things like this.

  • Edward Sturgill

    I find this ridiculous and absurd…….. We are in the south and slavery did occur in America . All races have been slaves at one time or another throughout history ……… I am from Virginia and a son of the confederacy and a son of the American revolution and do not hide that fact . I find it very disconcerting that people can’t be who they are and university’s that have a history are not allowed to rejoice in there heritage and rich historical past. I also find it very sad that we are so worried of the past when we need to be concerned with the future!!!

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