Jan 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Descendant of Robert E. Lee decries Confederate flag at Capitol

A man is seen carrying the Confederate flag outside the Senate Chamber after the Capitol was attacked Wednesday.
A man carries the Confederate flag outside the Senate Chamber on Wednesday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Rev. Rob Lee, a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, says the presence of the Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol this week was an "attack on democracy."

Why it matters: Historians say the flag — a symbol of white supremacy and racial segregation — never entered the Capitol with such fanfare during the Civil War. It was seen many times Wednesday in possession of white rioters who waved it without interference from police.

What he's saying: "A flag of treasonous and seditious movement entered our Capitol, and that was an attack on our democracy," Lee, a pastor at Unifour Church in Newton, North Carolina, told Axios.

  • While the searing image may embolden racists, it could also invigorate activists in their efforts to remove Confederate symbols from military bases and public buildings and spaces, said Lee, who speaks out against racism.

Flashback: “When people proudly had their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism. They love their flag. It represents the South. They like the South,” President Trump said in July.

  • He also criticized NASCAR’s ban of the Confederate flag from its events, and he attacked the plans to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases.

The big picture: The Confederate flag-waving and the looting of the Capitol occurred in a building built by enslaved African Americans, according to Jesse Holland, a Black journalist who wrote a book about hidden African American history in the nation's capital.

  • Holland said the use of the flag at the Capitol and the riot was a reaction to the growing political power of African Americans and other people of color in the U.S.
  • Now the Confederate flag "has been used as a symbol of insurrection for the second time in the last 200 years," Holland said. "It shook my very core."
Go deeper