A pastor who claimed to be a descendent of Robert E. Lee during a series of high-profile civil rights speeches denouncing the Confederate isn’t related to the general at all, it has been revealed.
The Rev. Robert Lee IV first hit the spotlight in 2016 when The Washington Post profiled him, calling him “the great-great-great-great-nephew of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee.”
The reverend then continued making the heritage claim in a series of high-profile appearances, including when he praised Black Lives Matter at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards.
“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate,” he said at the awards show, which followed the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was a protest to remove a statue to the general.
“As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” he said at the time, stepping down from his North Carolina church after his comments sparked anger among his congregation.
It only helped raise his profile, however, and Lee continued denouncing his supposed ancestor in a series of media outbursts, including TV’s “The View.”
“I want it to be said of me that there was a Lee in history who stood up for something that was right,” he told the ABC daytime talk show.
He returned to the spotlight last year after the death of George Floyd, joining Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in the bid to remove statues honoring the general — still claiming he was a relative.
The reverend even spoke at a House committee hearing last year.
After first writing about Lee, The Washington Post invited him last year to pen an op-ed in which he said he had “borne the weight and responsibility” of his “lineage” to Lee.
But the same paper questioned its own previous reporting Friday when it published an exhaustive fact-check into the reverend’s history.
“There is no evidence that Rob Lee, who was born in North Carolina, is related to Robert E. Lee, according to The Fact Checker’s review of historical and genealogical records,” wrote the paper’s fact-checker, Glenn Kessler.
The study was based on a records search aided by a retired lawyer and Civil War chronicler named Joseph Ryan, as well as an official at Stratford Hall, the ancestral home of the Virginia Lee family, the paper said.
“Instead, he appears to be a descendant of Robert S. Lee, also known as ‘Uncle Bob,’ who served in the Confederate forces — but was not a general,” Kessler wrote of the study.
He suggested it may have been a mistake, writing, “Family tales and memories can often be inaccurate.”
Lee did not respond to the paper’s research — but later blamed “family dynamics that make this difficult” to explain.
“Why the Post is so focused on my heritage and lineage while not focusing on the issues of the statue at hand is beyond me,” he said, while revealing that he had removed his name from a lawsuit seeking a Confederate statue’s removal.
He later insisted that he had not “sought fortune” by his claim, and said “sorry” to those who “feel this discredits me or breaks trust.”
“And, for distraction and de-centering voices of color, I’m sorry,” he wrote, saying he was “taking some time away.”
Shani George, vice president for communications at The Washington Post, insisted that the paper does “our best to verify a contributor’s credentials.”
“This was clearly a more complicated case, though at the time, our research gave us no reason to doubt his lineage claims,” George said.