Everyone is talking about several requests by law students at W&L (collectively known as "The Committee") regarding the memory of the Confederacy and President Lee on that campus. abovethelaw was first with this story, then Civil War Memory Blog, Inside Higher Ed and Huffington Post, now the Roanoke Times and the Washington Post (via the AP) have stories, too. The Lexington News-Gazette has extensive coverage of President Ken Ruscio's thoughtful response.
This is an important, though obviously difficult, conversation. There are a lot of angles to this--probably more on that campus, which was a hotbed of antislavery advocacy at points and at other times a focal point of celebration of the Lost Cause. It's no surprise given my choice of profession that I think that it is important to understand fully the history of an institution, to take a measure of the good and bad, as well as to understand it in the context of its time. There's a very long history at Washington College (as the school was known before the Civil War) with slavery. There were facutly on both sides of the debate over slavery, including President Henry Ruffner who was a staunch opponent of slavery. Here's a lecture I gave a few years back at W&L on their history with slavery. I compared the ideas on their campus some to their neighbor VMI as well. I think you'll be surprised by a lot in there, not the least of which is the efforts of many at Washington College to end slavery. (Back in 2011 I posted about literary addresses at Washington College before the war and the anti-slavery and then pro-slavery attitudes there.)
But this is really less about events that took place in some cases more than a century ago in Lexington. We should try to talk about what that legacy means today, about how that past burdens (and in some cases liberates) us. On that I hope to say a little more as I learn more about the discussion in Lexington, when I free up some time. And with some luck I'll have the chance to visit Lexington this summer, one of my most favorite spots, to complete a project I've been working on for some years on the literary society debates at Washington College.