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Posted at 2:24 PM ET, 12/17/2010

King and Lee together in film

By Linda Wheeler

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee are rarely associated with each other but staff at Shirley Plantation, near Richmond, Va., found enough similarities between the two heroic figures to create a 30-minute film to showcase their work.

“The M.L. King and R.E. Lee Connection” will be shown several times a day between Jan. 16 and 19 in the plantation’s kitchen building. Spokesman Julian Charity said the idea for the film grew out of the chance combination two years ago of Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19) coinciding with the federal holiday for King’s birthday, always celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Charity said that coincidence led his staff to begin research on the heroic figures, looking for a way to jointly celebrate their lives. Although one was a slave holder and the other a descendant of slaves, they found both favored education, individual responsibility, cherished family, despised war and worked for a better world for their children. He said quotations from each sounded very similar.

Shirley Plantation is an extraordinary place, well worth the visit with or without the film. The first farm was established in 1638 and the Great House was started in 1723. It is still occupied by the same family 11 generations later. The first floor of the mansion as well as several of the out buildings are open for tours.

The Civil War came to the plantation on July 1, 1862 when Gen. George B. McClellan retreated to the estate following the Union victory at the Battle of Malvern Hill. Several accounts say he and his men stripped the place of crops, cattle and bushels of dried corn before departing and leaving behind upwards of one thousand wounded soldiers. The Shirley family who had six sons fighting for the Confederacy, cared for the wounded who had been abandoned on their lawn and along the banks of the James River until Union boats arrived at their dock to take them away.

Lee, one of the subjects of the film, had a personal connection to the plantation. His mother, Ann Hall Carter was raised at Shirley and married Lee’s father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, in the parlor of the Great House.

By Linda Wheeler  | December 17, 2010; 2:24 PM ET
Categories:  Exhibits  
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