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Washington Post Fact Checker Says Rev. Rob Lee Is Not Related To Confederate General

Jessi Lancaster
Submitted File
Rob Lee is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School and has been a pastor at churches in Winston-Salem and Newton.

Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV has claimed for at least five years that he is a descendent of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.

He has parlayed this claim into appearances on The View, CNN and MTV, op-eds and books, and into an audience with Vice President Kamala Harris. And last year, he repeated this claim during his testimony in front of a Congressional House Hearing on legislation regarding the removal of Confederate monuments. Lee has also stated this claim on multiple appearances on WUNC and NPR programs.

But last week, Glenn Kessler – the Fact Checker for the Washington Post – concluded that there is no evidence that Rev. Rob Lee of Iredell County is related to the notorious Confederate general.

After reviewing historical and genealogical records, Kessler wrote: “Without new evidence that confirms his claim, the pastor should not state he is related to Robert E. Lee, especially in legal filings — and news organizations should not echo this claim.”

Kessler has been the editor and chief writer of “The Fact Checker” for the Post since 2011. He is on the advisory board for the International Fact-Checking Network and was part of two reporting teams at Newsday that won Pulitzer Prizes. When reached by WUNC via email, Kessler said that Post reporters “generally do not discuss our process, as we let the stories speak for themselves.”

Since the story was published by the Post last Friday, Lee has not produced evidence that would prove his relation to the man who led Confederate troops in the Civil War.

In his own Tweets, Lee said he chose not to “engage” with the Post because of medication he was taking. He added: “There are also family dynamics that make this difficult.” After the Post story was published, Lee removed himself from a lawsuit that sought the removal of a Confederate monument in Iredell County.

Lee released a statement on Sunday saying, “I stand by the records I have seen and worked with. They are not mine to share and family dynamics are at play… We believe we have provided enough verification.”

According to Kessler, Lee did not respond to “repeated requests” for comment from the Post and his father did not return a phone call either. Lee did respond to an email inquiry from WUNC, referring to his already Tweeted statement.

In a separate statement to the Religion News Service, Lee said he "vehemently disputes the reporting on his lineage."

Since becoming a public figure, Lee has advocated for Confederate monuments to be taken down and has publicly denounced white supremacy many times. During the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, he called Robert E. Lee his “ancestor” and said the Confederate general was “an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate.” In 2020, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called for the removal of a statue of the general from Richmond, Lee said, “I know that Robert E. Lee is rolling around in his grave, and I say let him roll.”

During an appearance on NPR’s “All Things Considered” in 2019, Lee recalled learning of his alleged relationship to the Confederate from a picture hanging in his grandmother’s house. Lee said, “When I found out that I was related to him, and a close relation at that, it was as if my world had been shaken in the best way possible. It's like told - being told you're related to a celebrity down here.” Lee released a book that year titled, “A Sin By Any Other Name: Reckoning With Racism And The Heritage Of The South.” Bernice A. King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., wrote the foreword.

Lee is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School and has been a pastor at churches in Winston-Salem and Newton. He was also previously a freelance columnist for the Statesville Record & Landmark newspaper. Chelsea Clinton wrote the foreword for his latest book, “The Pulpit And The Paper,” which is a collection of those articles.

In his findings, Kessler concluded that Lee is actually the great-great-great-grandson of Robert S. Lee, an Alabama farmer and carpenter who fought for the Confederacy; not the army’s leader, Robert E. Lee.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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