VOICES: Remove Robert E. Lee, honor the Union Buckeyes

I am writing this guest column to request for the end of the display of the Robert E. Lee Dixie Highway Monument in Franklin, Ohio by the Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge #2309 and reignite discussion of the place of Confederate memorials in Ohio. Though I do not personally reside in Franklin, I have close family in the area and proudly hail from seven generations of Ohioans, one of which was a Union soldier of the 60th Ohio Infantry Regiment. I have much respect for the Fraternal Order of Eagles’ substantial charity work and historical membership of many of America’s greatest citizens; however, I believe the public display of this monument contradicts the FOE’s desire of preserving the spirit of truth and justice, as well as disrespects the Great State of Ohio’s tremendous role in the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.

As the commander of the Confederate Army, General Lee fought against our federal government, as well as the founding promise of our nation to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans. Though I will not deny the Northern states’, including Ohio’s, own historical benefit from the disgraceful institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, it was the North that oversaw the national emancipation and Ohio, with its sacrifice of over 30,000 brave Buckeye heroes, was a crucial part of this. Although I will always assert that Robert E. Lee should be studied, actively discussed, and should not lose his prevalence in the American memory for the sake of understanding the mistakes and complexity of our national history, he should not be placed on publicly displayed monuments, especially in Ohio.

While I personally condemn Lee, I do not write this article as one of the many who have recently done so for the sake of shallow social approval. I write this article as a proud American, the direct descendant of Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, and the son of an immigrant of color and an Ohioan. I will never disservice our shared national history by reducing it to an ignorant and simple ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and I genuinely believe that examining General Lee’s life and choices will allow one to recognize core moral conflicts in our country that continue to burden us all to this day as well as develop a stronger understanding of others during this divided era. However, I cannot support the open display of this memorial of Robert E. Lee, and as the man himself had argued against the creation of Confederate monuments, I am confident he would agree.

In addition, this memorial has no connection to Ohio’s history in the Civil War at all. It was erected to mark a point along the Dixie Highway, a tourist route founded in the early twentieth century, generations after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. To have this memorial still displayed in Franklin is a blatant sign of disrespect to the state as a whole, as well as the people harmed by the Confederacy and its legacy.

The city of Franklin sought to remove the memorial when it was on public land and Lodge #2309′s decision to restore it to its current place on the outside premises of the lodge continues to preserve the presence of Lee in a state that fought hard to defeat him. For the sake of our collective national integrity, I request Lodge #2309 remove the memorial.

Jeremy Y. Sharp is a current senior at Cornell University and intends to pursue law school in the fall.

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