After Charlottesville, Virginia church removes Robert E. Lee from its name

ReutersThe statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, US, September 16, 2017

Leaders at the R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Virginia have voted to remove the Confederate general's name from the parish after demands to disavow the Civil War figure divided the congregation following last month's violent clashes in Charlottesville.

The former Confederate commander had joined the church's congregation when he moved to Lexington in 1865, following his surrender to Union troops. He served as a senior warden until his death in 1870, and the church was named after General Robert E. Lee in 1903.

According to RT.com, on Monday evening the church board voted by 7-5 to change the parish's name back to Grace Episcopal Church.

The vote came after a two-year debate on whether a Christian church should carry a name that honoured a man who fought a war to preserve the institution of slavery.

'It's been a very divisive issue for two years,' Tom Crittenden, the church's rector, told the Richmond Times Dispatch. 'But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.'

A parishioner first proposed a motion to rename the church shortly after the June 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, when a white supremacist murdered nine African-Americans at the AME Episcopal Church.

A vestry member, Doug Cumming, said that the discussions were difficult and had divided the congregation, prompting the resignation of another vestry member and the church's treasurer.

'People have left the church,' he said. 'People have felt exhausted by it. And many people felt hurt.'

Cumming told the Dispatch: '[Lee] was the senior warden of our church, we're proud of that, it's part of our history, but we're not going to put that on a sign out on the street because it's misunderstood. My ancestors were very proud, brave and articulate southerners, and like Robert E. Lee, I think they'd be very proud over what our church has done tonight.'

The move by the church comes after a number of cities across the US have removed monuments to Lee and other Confederate leaders following the clashes in Charlottesville last month in which one anti-racist activist died and 19 others were injured when a car driven by a white nationalist smashed into the crowd of counter-protesters.

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