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Descendants of Robert E. Lee and those he enslaved to hold reunion in Arlington

A unique reunion will take place at Arlington National Cemetery later this month.

Descendants of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will gather with descendants of enslaved persons at the place where they once lived: Lee’s former plantation home, Arlington House.

The reunion, supported by the National Park Service, will feature families whose name has been etched in Arlington history over the years: Syphax, Custis, Gray, and so on.

A planned program on Saturday, April 22 will be open to the public and is set to include “music, remarks from descendant family members, and a ceremonial signing of a commitment letter to affirm the shared interests of the National Park Service and descendant families in shaping and sharing how descendant family histories and legacies are presented to the public.”

More, below, from a press release.

After more than 160 years, the descendants of the families, both enslaved and free, who lived on the historical plantation home of George Washington Parke Custis and Robert E. Lee will come together in-person for a milestone celebration of togetherness, reconciliation and storytelling. The three-day event, the first of its kind, will be held the weekend of April 21-23, 2023.

The Saturday April 22nd program beginning at 10AM on the grounds of Arlington House, will be open to the public and include music, remarks from descendant family members, and a ceremonial signing of a commitment letter to affirm the shared interests of the National Park Service and descendant families in shaping and sharing how descendant family histories and legacies are presented to the public.

Stephen Hammond, one of the organizers of the event and a Syphax family descendant, said, “We are pleased to announce our first face-to-face reunion of the descendant families connected to Arlington House. For the last two years, we have been meeting virtually, as a family circle, thanks to reconciliation dialogues sponsored by the National Park Service. Our facilitated conversations grew from members’ initial work to get to know one another and listen to one another. Through these deliberate and thoughtful conversations, the group has become a meaningful circle for its participants, who are now inviting the larger Arlington House descendant community to join us.”

Sarah Fleming, a Lee family descendant, said, “My fourth great grandfather, Richard Bland Lee, was Robert E. Lee’s uncle. I grew up knowing slavery was abhorrent and hearing of the pride my family took in being related to the Lees. We never talked about the space in between – about how the Lees themselves were enslavers. As a descendant of the Lees of Virginia, I am honored to have been invited to join the Arlington House Descendants’ Family Circle and to work towards healing the racial harms caused by slavery and by my ancestors.”

The Arlington House Family Circle was formed in 2021 with support from the National Park Service by descendants of enslaved persons, including the Branham, Custis, Gray, Henry, Norris, Parks and Syphax families, as well as descendants of enslaver families including the Custis and Lee families. The Family Circle participated in an innovative trust-building and truth-telling process, called The Welcome Table, which fostered difficult but necessary conversations about history that created a pathway to address the past while also charting a way forward together.

Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, reopened in June 2021 after a 3-year renovation. The renovated plantation house, along with gardens and other buildings with exhibits will be open. Descendants will be on hand as docents, to answer questions.

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