This is precisely why it is important for everyday people, most of whom try to be decent as well, to remember Lee—not as a hero, but as a man who devoted himself to the wrong ideals and, whatever sort of individual he may have been, found himself on the wrong side of one of the most decisive and morally laden moments in history. Instead of tearing down the monuments that stand in his name, we should build more right next to them and remind ourselves not only of the man but also of the trail of suffering and dead his decision to fight for the Confederacy left in its wake. Accompany his statues with displays that affirm the great service his defeat did to this country, and pay tribute to the progress made possible by it and the people who overcame the challenges he left behind.
These lessons shouldn’t be confined to museums. We have to make people confront it in their daily lives. That, after all, is where the past still confronts us and where our takeaways from his life’s story have their impact. The white-nationalist mobs who see Lee as a hero of Western civilization are proof themselves that the true lesson of Lee and his legacy still needs to be taught—evidently, some of us aren’t getting it.