Black and White Descendants of Robert E. Lee Met For A Reunion at the Arlington House in Virginia

There was a different type of family reunion that happened at the former plantation home of Robert E. Lee  last weekend in Virginia.

NPR reported that descendants of Confederate General Robert E. Lee met with the descendants of people he once enslaved. Hosted at the Arlington House, this was the first time some of them have met in person, as they have had conversations virtually, hoping to understand the racial divide with something called the “Family Circle.”

Relatives like Cecilia Torres used to visit the house when she was a little girl and said she’s on the Family Circle committee to uplift the memories of her great-great-grandparents. “I’m on this committee, the Family Circle, to bring back the memories of our ancestors, as well as reconcile with the family that enslaved them,” Torres said. She is the descendant of Selina Gray and Thornton Gray – with Selina being the personal house servant to Lee’s wife, Mary Custis Lee.

She said her grandmother never used the term “slave” when referencing her ancestors. Instead, Torres recalled she would say, “That’s your great-great-grandmother’s house. She was kind of like a maid to Mrs. Lee.”

The celebration, called “Finding Our Voice,” drew a crowd of about 100 people. Stephen Hammond, the organizer and the descendent of a Lee family slave, said this has been a lifelong goal of his. “It’s important that we get to know one another because our ancestors existed in this space together,” Hammond said, according to GBH News. He also said there is power in connecting.

Descendants of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and descendants of slaves owned by Lee participate in a reunion at Lee’s former plantation home, the Arlington House, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on April 22, 2023. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds / AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

“To have these families be apart and going their separate ways for 160 years, and then to be able to come back together to start a conversation about our lives and what we can do and accomplish together is extremely powerful.”

Over the past few years, work has been done to remove statues honoring Lee and his racist history. In 2021, a statue in his likeness was removed in Charlottesville, Virginia – the setting of the Unite the Right Rally, a rally for white supremacists. The City Council voted to have the statue melted down and allowed Black artists to transform it into something else.