Column/Two birthdays

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 28, 2007

There were two birthday anniversaries the week of Jan. 14 – one on the 15th to celebrate Martin Luther



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78th and on the 19th, Robert E. Lee’s 200th.

Except for the nice letter to the editor on Jan. 13, from Benjamin Abernathy of Prattville, Lee’s bicentennial birthday would have gone virtually unnoticed in Selma, and of course, the mainstream media.

Those of us who are familiar with American history and have maintained an interest in our country’s

civil war (1861-1865) know that General Lee was the commander of the Confederate forces, becoming a great southern hero of the war. Lee’s popularity grew in the north after 1880, and he still remains an iconic figure of American history today.

King, born in Atlanta, became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, at the tender age of 24(1953), after skipping two high school grades and graduating from Morehouse College.

After the Rosa Parks incident in 1955, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted over a year. He was just tuning up for the Selma “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965.

As everyone knows, King is credited with being the driving force behind the civil rights movement in the ’60s – highlighted by the infamous “Selma March,” and his “I have a dream” speech in front of 250,000 followers at the Lincoln Memorial and President Kennedy.

In the early days of King’s crusade, the “Letter from Birmingham,” an impassioned plea in his pursuit of justice, has become an important part of his legacy.

Perhaps King’s crowning achievement was becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 – “for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.”

Unfortunately, over four decades later, the liberal politicians and news media don’t want racial prejudice to end. Whether it is real or not, they use it. Both races use it – as evidenced right here in Selma!

Lee, a native of Virginia, was born at Stratford Hall Plantation, the fifth child of “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary war hero and Anne Hill Carter Lee.

His parents were members of Virginia’s gentry

class, and his maternal great-great-grandfather, Robert “King” Carter, was said to be the wealthiest man in the colonies, when he died in1732. However, when Robert’s father died, leaving the family deeply in debt, Robert, only 11 at the time, grew up in a series of houses in Alexandria, Va.

As an academy school student, Lee was at the top of his class, excelling in math, and his mother, a devout Christian, oversaw his Episcopalian religious instruction. Robert E. Lee entered the United States Military Academy in 1825, graduating second in his class of 46 in 1829, and attaining the rare distinction of receiving zero demerits. Upon graduation he was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of engineers.

Lee’s early military career featured numerous assignments, involving various engineering construction

projects, and he played a key role in building Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. When completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was referred to as the “Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay.” While at this duty station, Lee married Mary Randolph Custis, the great-granddaughter of

Martha Washington, at Arlington House, now a historical building at Arlington National Cemetery. Their marriage produced three sons and four daughters.

Later, Lee distinguished himself as a top aide to General Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War in 1846, became the superintendent of West Point in1852 for three years and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1855, serving under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, protecting Texas frontier settlers from Indian attacks.

Of course, Lee is best known for being the leader of the Confederate forces during the Civil War. He recorded a number of great victories in the early years of that war, but he was defeated at Gettysburg, the most important battle of this great and terrible conflict.

Lee had some bad luck at Gettysburg, losing his top aide, Stonewall Jackson, just before that battle. Also, his ” eyes and ears,” chief scout officer Jeb Stuart, was late arriving for the battle. However, there were many blunders by Lee and his subordinates as well, thus leading to the turning-point-of-the-war defeat. Otherwise, all the damn Yankees would now be eating grits and saying you’all!

After the war, Lee became president of Washington College, Lexington, Va., – now known as Washington and Lee. He was designated “Spiritual Founder” of the collegiate fraternity, Kappa Alpha Order, providing a model of character for its members. Go KAs!

See more on Lee, King and slavery at a later date.

Byrd Looper is a regular columnist for The Times-Journal.