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Robert E. Lee plaques removed at Fort Hamilton Episcopal church

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island removed two plaques dedicated to Robert E. Lee from a tree outside St. John's Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.  (Credit: Corey Sipkin)

One of New York’s memorials to the Confederacy is no longer on display.

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island removed two plaques dedicated to Robert E. Lee from in front of a maple tree outside the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, Wednesday morning. Lee was said to have planted a tree in the same spot when he was stationed at the military fort in the 1840s.

The church, which was known as the “Church of the Generals,” has been closed since 2014. However, Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said the Episcopal diocese fundamentally opposed celebrating Lee in such a public manner.

“These generals fought against the United States and did so to preserve slavery. That should in itself be offensive to any thinking person, particularly to anyone in the church community,” he said.

The plaques, which were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1912 and 1935, were the subject of a New Yorker article in June and had come under increased scrutiny in recent days, following the violent white supremacist protests against the proposal to remove a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The bishop said that he ordered the Fort Hamilton plaques taken down as soon as he became aware of them over the weekend. On Wednesday, crews spent less than five minutes removing the plaques with electric saws to the cheers of a few onlookers.

“I’m glad it’s gone,” said Bay Ridge resident Emily Hegarty, who attended the church and is an English professor. “We thought it was anachronistic. ... The Daughters of the Confederacy had their own agenda.”

There were, however, a few Bay Ridge residents who questioned the removal. Patrick Gilbride, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2001, said the memorial served as a symbol of reconciliation.

“It might be educational to say, ‘This is an olive branch,’” he said.

Other residents countered that such a public display of a racist past didn’t belong in a diverse neighborhood.

“They didn’t go to this church. They are here to make a political point,” Hegerty said of those opposing the removal.

The plaques will be placed in the Diocese’s archives in Garden City and be made available to view by request, according to Bishop Provenzano.

“It will be put in a place where it will be remembered in terms of its history and the proper sense of how it is viewed,” he said.

Last week, the Army denied a request made by Brooklyn’s congressional delegation to rename General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Way inside Fort Hamilton.

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