LEXINGTON, Va. ― The Sons of Confederate Veterans no longer can use Washington and Lee University’s campus chapel for an annual ceremony.
The university recently denied the heritage group’s request to rent Lee Chapel for a celebration of Lee-Jackson Day in 2016. The group’s Stonewall Brigade had held the ceremony at the chapel for more than a decade, multiple media outlets reported.
Washington and Lee spokesman Brian Eckert said people identifying themselves as members of the group have made misstatements and used inflammatory language targeting the university because of its decision in 2015 to remove Confederate flags from part of the chapel.
“The persistent name-calling, vilification and uncivil attacks in messages to the university, letters to the editors of local newspapers and social media postings have persuaded us that our original intent to make the chapel available would not be appropriate,” Eckert told The Roanoke Times.
Stonewall Brigade member W.B. Wilmore, who submitted the request to rent the chapel, said his group will find another site for the ceremony. He said the ceremony is a positive event and is not racial or derogatory to anyone.
“I’m just upset about the whole thing. There’s no reason why they had to do this,” Wilmore told WSET-TV. “There’s no sense in these people acting like that. We all have to live here together. All we wanted was two hours out of 8,760 hours year’s time. I don’t think what we’re asking for is unreasonable at all.”
Wilmore acknowleged that the university has the right to say who can and cannot use the chapel, which is owned by the school.
Lee-Jackson Day is a Virginia state holiday that falls on the Friday before Martin Luther King Day. The Stonewall Brigade had held the ceremony in the past on the Saturday after the holiday.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who served as the university’s president after the Civil War, is interred in a crypt beneath the chapel.
Washington and Lee, in the Shenandoah Valley west of Richmond, was founded in 1749 as Augusta Academy and adopted George Washington’s name in 1796. Lee became part of the university’s name after Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870.