Media hyped so-called ‘descendent’ of Robert E. Lee after Charlottesville, WaPo suggests they’re not related

A fact-check from The Washington Post concluded that there is no evidence that a man who claimed to be a descendent of Robert E. Lee was actually related to the Confederate general. 

In the weeks following the events of Charlottesville back in 2017, Rev. Robert W. Lee became a national figure for denouncing his apparent relative at the MTV Video Music Awards. 

“My name is Robert Lee the Fourth. I am a descendent of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville,” Lee began his address to the audience. “We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin. Today, I call on everyone with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on.”

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Lee, who had claimed to be the fourth great-nephew of the Confederate leader, made the media rounds after he resigned as pastor from a North Carolina church following his MTV appearance and pushed for statues of the general removed and various parks and schools strip their names that were dedicated to him. He was invited for a sympathetic interview on “The View.”

Following the death of George Floyd, Lee appeared in various media outlets pushing his stance on the statues, even writing an op-ed for The Washington Post. 

He was also invited to speak before Congress to urge lawmakers to remove such Confederate monuments. 

Well, a stunning fact-check from the Post’s Glenn Kessler showed that there is no evidence that the reverend is even related to his so-called namesake. 

“There is no evidence that Rob Lee, who was born in North Carolina, is related to Robert E. Lee, according to The Fact Checker’s review of historical and genealogical records,” Kessler wrote on Friday. “We were aided in our search through these records by a retired Los Angeles trial lawyer and Civil War chronicler named Joseph Ryan, as well as an official at Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Virginia Lee family.”

Kessler explained that the fact-checking team used Lee’s assertion that he stemmed from the general’s brother Charles Lee, but “when we traced the genealogy, the trail quickly ran cold. None of the direct descendants of these Virginians led us to Rob Lee.”

“Instead, when we worked backward from Rob Lee’s family — the various Robert W. Lees — we ended up in Alabama, not Virginia,” Kessler said. 

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The findings found that Lee was actually a descendant of a “Robert S. Lee” who similarly served in the Confederate army, but was not its famous leader. 

Regarding the “Pinocchio Test,” Lee’s claims did not qualify for a rating since “family tales and memories can often be inaccurate” and that he “may have firmly believed he was somehow related to Robert E. Lee, based on stories he heard at home about ‘Uncle Bob.’”

“Many people with Confederate ancestry have stepped forward to denounce the racist symbolism embodied in Confederate monuments. But, without new evidence that confirms his claim, the pastor should not state he is related to Robert E. Lee, especially in legal filings — and news organizations should not echo this claim,”. Kessler concluded.

Reverend Lee issued a statement on Sunday addressing the controversy while refraining from saying what the Post reported was false. 

“My mission and ministry has been confronting white supremacy as a sin. Regardless of whether you believe me or the article, the fact remains that either lineage participated and profited from racism and slavery. That ends with me,” Lee wrote. 

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He continued, “If you feel I have sought fortune for this I can assure you that was never the case. If you feel this discredits me or breaks trust, I’m sorry. And, for distraction and de-centering voices of color, I’m sorry.”

Lee previously knocked the Post over its pursuits, writing “Why the Post is so focused on my heritage and lineage while not focusing on the issues of the statue at hand is beyond me.”  

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