STRATFORD, VA, (August 15, 2017) – Together with Virginians and citizens across our country, Stratford Hall is profoundly saddened by the tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. Yet at the same time we are heartened, together with countless others, by the resolve and resilience expressed in response to hatred and ignorance.
Stratford Hall is a not-for-profit organization with a mission of historic preservation and education. We seek to inspire an appreciation of America’s past and encourage commitment to ideals of leadership, honor, independent thought and civic responsibility. Stratford Hall was home to four generations of the Lee family, including signers of the Declaration of Independence and military leaders who served in the struggle for American independence. It also was the home of many other families and individuals in various states of servitude and work, less well known than the Lees. And it is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, who lived at Stratford with his family until the age of three, when the family departed. This span of history encompasses America’s formative first century. Our responsibility is to learn about, preserve and present the history of the entire community of Stratford, as it represents the diverse history and heritage of our nation.
Like many if not most of the towering figures of America’s formative years, Robert E. Lee was not without complication and contradiction, and he was imperfect. He took a military commission in the Confederacy to defend his ancestral Virginia. After surrendering the Confederate army his commitment to faith, family and education led him to try to heal the country’s wounds throughout his remaining years. His personal story can be used to help heal our nation’s wounds today. It seems plausible that he would have found the weekend events in Charlottesville, perpetrated by external forces of hatred, abhorrent, as is most certainly the position of this institution. And there is no honest or rational basis upon which to appropriate his name and story as symbols of modern-day terror and intolerance.
Our responsibility as Stratford’s stewards is neither to defend nor advocate, but rather to educate, building on research and contributions of staff, scholars, and our extended community. The history of Stratford affords a unique and compelling opportunity for this process of education – for learning. From learning comes understanding, and dialogue. From understanding and dialogue come listening, and respect. And respect is the foundation of community. Stratford looks forward to contributing constructively to our collective sense of community. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it to build a better future for all.
President, Stratford Hall