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Letter to the editor

Remove Robert E. Lee from the Chapel

Charlottesville is a watershed moment for our country. It calls on all Americans, particularly white Americans like myself, to take a long, hard look at the beliefs we hold and the institutions we cherish. For me, that has meant taking a long hard look at the Duke Chapel.

While at Duke, I was heavily involved in the life of the Chapel. I was a Chapel Scholar, and I regularly attended Chapel student programming. I spent many Sunday mornings in the Chapel’s pews and many weekday afternoons studying, napping or chatting with friends in the Chapel basement. In what was certainly the highest honor of my time at Duke, I was selected to preach from the pulpit of Duke Chapel as the 2017 Student Preacher. I firmly believe that I have never set foot in a building more sacred than the Chapel. I designated my senior gift to the Chapel, and I intend to keep donating to it until the day I die.

Unless they take a guided tour of the Chapel or spend significant time there, people may not realize that the building’s entrance plays host to ten statues, one of which is of Robert E. Lee. It is time—indeed, it is long past time—for the statue of Lee to be removed. We cannot ask black churchgoers to worship while being watched over by the likeness of a man who took pride in beating their ancestors and systematically separating their families. Likewise, we cannot expect students of color to attend Convocation and Baccalaureate in a building adorned with an effigy of a man who most certainly would not have wanted them to attend a university like Duke in the first place.

Let me be clear: I am no enemy of history. I minored in history at Duke. In those studies, I learned that there are many ways to preserve history. Museums preserve history. Books preserve history. Archives preserve history. Monuments and statues do not preserve history—they glorify it.

Christian members of the Duke community, in particular, it is time to recognize that leaving a statue of Robert E. Lee on the Duke Chapel is not a preservation of history. It is a preservation of idolatry. It places the false idols of racism, white supremacy and slavery above the faithful worship of a God who tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

How can any Christian respect the legacy of a man who allowed students at his university, Washington and Lee, to abduct and rape black schoolgirls? Furthermore, how can any patriotic American defend a man who committed treason against the United States? How can the community of intellectuals at Duke celebrate a man who believed that blacks were subhuman and that slavery was for their benefit?

There is only one acceptable place for a statue of Robert E. Lee to be preserved on our campus: in the archives. Not desecrating the entrance of a building as iconic and sacred as the Duke Chapel.

Katie Becker is Trinity '17.


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