CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- There's no question that Robert E. Lee holds a huge place in Virginia history, but should we have a monument to him in a public park? Virginia historian Rick Britton says Lee's legacy is complicated, and so is the issue of the statue.
"There's a lot of different ways to look at his statue,' he said. "You can look at it as a piece of art, you can think about Lee as a military man, and honestly, he is one of the greatest military men ever born in the United States."
Britton is an expert on the Civil War, and he says Lee was a brilliant leader who worked to reunite the country after the conflict. But he disputes any claim that Lee should not be held accountable for his part in slavery. After all, he led the southern states in their fight to preserve it.
"There's really no question that they left the union to protect the right of their citizens to own fellow human beings as property," Britton said, referring to the Articles of Secession signed by all 11 states of the Confederacy.
He says that when considering the issue of the Confederate monuments, it's important to consider not only the history of the men the statues portray but also the racial tensions of the 1920s and 1930s when the Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues were put up in Charlottesville.
"Lynchings were still going on in the United States, African-American men were being lynched," he said. "You can look at that time and see it as a time of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, unfortunately."
Britton says he doesn't think removing the statues is the answer. Instead, he'd prefer adding new signs that put the statues in context, and he'd like to see new statues of African-American leaders erected around town.
"There's plenty of room around Charlottesville, there's plenty of room in Lee Park for other statues," he said.
Britton believes better education about U.S. history and communication around the issue is key to living with it.
"We have to understand this, we need more conversation about these issues in order to move forward, in order to get past these problems," he said.