I had no idea that my online colleague Karen Finney had such a complex background. This was so powerful, go read it all:
As the biracial daughter of Jim Finney, a black civil rights lawyer descended from enslaved Virginians, and Mildred Lee, a white social worker and the great-great-great-great niece of Confederate General Robert E. Lee — of whom statues stand in many cities and towns, including, now infamously, Charlottesville — my American story is complicated.
About a year ago, I made a discovery that reminded me of just how complicated both my family’s and our nation’s painful journey on race and equality has been. I found two letters that my maternal grandmother, also named Mildred Lee, had written to my father. In the first, four-page, single-spaced typed letter, she laid out arguments why my dad should leave my mom and not marry her as they’d planned. Not only was marrying illegal in their respective home states of Virginia and North Carolina, in 1967, their forthcoming interracial marriage, she explained, was against the “natural order of things,” in which black and white have their place.”
Quoting the Bible, she argued that their marriage would bring permanent disrepute, shame and irreparable damage not only to my mother’s life but also the lives of the whole family. A month later, my parents were married in a simple ceremony in New York City. In a second letter, sent less than a week before I was born, my grandmother described miscegenation as a sin and a stain that would never be made clean, quoting the Bible and invoking “the way of things.”
The woman who wrote these letters sounded nothing like the loving grandmother I knew and adored growing up, who always brought presents when she visited from North Carolina, and exhaustively searched to find me a beautiful doll that exactly matched my mocha skin color. But her underlying fear and anxiety at the time were bound up with a family tradition that had placed Lee on a pedestal — figuratively, if not literally — in the way she remembered and recounted the Lee family heritage, with great pride and even a sense of superiority. I grew up with heroically framed, but demonstrably false, stories about “The General”: that he was a reluctant warrior who didn’t really want to own slaves or fight the Civil War, stories that were consistent with the 20th century revisionist narrative of the “War of Northern Aggression,” rewriting Civil War and southern history.
Go read the rest.