Robert E. Lee passed away many years before the Civil Rights Era of 1955-1968. Nevertheless, for those willing to examine his actions in the wake of the Civil War, he stood as a commanding example of the final great lessons of that war. He accepted the fact that the southern states had been compelled to give up their quest for independence, and he accepted the Emancipation Proclamation and all that it implied.
In accepting defeat and ordering his troops to lay down their arms, Lee refused to go along with the wishes of several subordinates, who urged that he instruct his army to scatter into the hills and carry on the war using guerrilla tactics, knowing that this effort would ultimately fail and that it would bring such bloody reprisals that peace would forever be a fleeting dream.
He accepted the Emancipation Proclamation and its implications to a greater degree than many others throughout the country. Jay Winik, in his beautifully written book, "April 1865 : the month that saved America," described a Sunday morning a few weeks after the end of the war. At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, when the time came for the faithful to take communion, a black man came forward and knelt at the communion rail. A silence hung over the church, where prior to this day blacks had not dared to appear. Then one man came forward, knelt beside him, and took communion, and suddenly it was all right. That man was Robert E. Lee.
A century later, much of the South and much of the nation was wrenched by the Civil Rights struggles. However, throughout the South, there were men and women who stood with the black people of America in calling for an end to the horror of segregation. Robert E. Lee would have recognized those people. He would have been one of them.