Two plaques honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that mark a maple tree outside a Brooklyn church will be removed Wednesday, the spiritual leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said Tuesday.
“I think it is the responsible thing for us to do,” Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said. “People for whom the Civil War is such a critical moment — and particularly the descendants of former slaves — shouldn’t walk past what they believe is a church building and see a monument to a Confederate general.”
The bishop said he plans to be at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton on Wednesday along with other church workers to remove the two plaques.
They mark the spot where Lee is said to have planted a tree when he was a military engineer stationed at the U.S. Army base at Fort Hamilton in the 1840s — two decades before he became commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
He and other military men reportedly worshipped at the small church nearby, a structure that predated the current building.
The move comes as statues to Confederate leaders are being taken down across the country and after the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, spurred by white supremacists gathered to protest the city’s planned removal of a Lee statue in a downtown park.
During the time Lee was stationed at Fort Hamilton, he was said to have planted a maple tree outside the church. The New York Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy installed the plaque in 1912.
It reads: “This Tree Was Planted By General Robert Edward Lee While Stationed At Fort Hamilton from 1842 to 1847. The Tree Has Been Restored And This Tablet Placed Upon It By the New York Chapter United Daughters of The Confederacy. April 1912.”
Provenzano said the current tree is a “descendant” of the original planted by Lee. A second United Daughters of the Confederacy plaque, which makes note of that and says a replacement tree was planted in 1935, also will be taken down Wednesday.
The church is being sold and is under contract, Provenzano added.
Members of Congress from the borough are among those who have called for eliminating the names of two streets in Fort Hamilton named for Confederate generals: General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive. Fort Hamilton, named for Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury, still is an active U.S. Army base.
“To honor these men who believed in the ideology of white supremacy and fought to maintain the institution of slavery constitutes a grievous insult to the many thousands of people in Brooklyn who are descendants of the slaves held in bondage,” said a letter sent in June to Army Secretary Robert Speer by Reps. Yvette Clarke, Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velazquez and Hakeem Jeffries, members of Congress who all represent parts of the borough and are Democrats.