Re: REL - Q1

Jenny Berman Ross

I did not nominate the book or vote for it. I picked it up at the public library a couple of months ago and read it.  My mother was from Texas and three of her grandparents were Southern.  I have accumulated a lot of genealogical information and inherited information about the Civil War experiences of some ancestors.  Nathan Bedford Forrest is a distant cousin and my mother thought highly enough of Robert E. Lee to give my brother the middle name "Lee" in what also may have been a nod to the many variations of Robert as a name for men and women in her father's family. The first members of my mother's family to arrive in the United States settled on a 100 acre plantation near Jamestown in the early 1630s. My ancestors pretty consistently moved south and west and married outside of their family circle. A few fought for independence in the Revolutionary War, some fought against the British in the War of 1812, and many fought for the South in the Civil War.  By the 1850s, most of my direct ancestors did not own large plots of land or slaves. They were teachers, haberdashers, or bankers who were still willing to take up arms against their country to defend the right of their friends and relatives to own slaves.

I am not Southern - I grew up in diverse communities in Arizona and have lived around the country in Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois. I picked up Robert E. Lee and Me to see if the author's exploration of his own background and beliefs would give me insight into my mother's thinking. She not only embraced the lost cause myths about Robert E. Lee but also embraced stories about her ancestor's Scotch-Irish origins, which were also myths. I found the book very interesting and sent a note to the author after I finished it - telling him that I found echoes of my own family and some of the stories they told in his story. 

I think this book, like Mitch Landrieu's speech about removing the confederate monuments in New Orleans ( are important because they show how White Americans need to examine not just our history but our responses to it and how those myths make others feel. It is interesting to me that I continue to encounter people at genealogy conferences who are very invested in these myths - despite the fact that they do not have southern ancestor or roots in the south.  A man who has given presentations in Illinois about his perceived need for the Confederate monuments that were erected in the early 20th century comes to mind - he is not southern and does not have southern ancestors but is very invested in maintaining monuments to White supremacy.


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