Editor’s Note: I dedicate this article in the Southern History Series to the Rainbow Confederates.
In the aftermath of the War Between the States, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was interviewed by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. Lee testified before Congress about his beliefs on the future of African-Americans in Virginia:
Question: What is your opinion about it being an advantage to Virginia to keep them (the blacks) there at all. Do you not think that Virginia would be better off if the colored population were to go to Alabama, Louisiana, and the other Southern States?
Answer: I think it would be better for Virginia if she could get rid of them. That is no new opinion with me. I have always thought so, and have always been in favor of emancipation, gradual emancipation.
Question: As a question of labor alone, do you not think that the labor which would flow into Virginia, if the negroes left it for the cotton States, would be far more advantageous to the State and to its future prosperity?
Answer: I think it would be for the benefit of Virginia, and I believe that everybody there would be willing to aid it.
Question: Do you not think that the State of Virginia is absolutely injured and its future impaired by the presence of the black population there?
Answer: I think it is.
Question: And do you not think it is peculiarly adapted to the quality of labor which would flow, into it, from its great natural resources, in case it – was made more attractive by the absence of the colored race?
Answer: I do.