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Robert E. Lee’s Descendant Is the Pastor Who Denounced White Supremacy at the VMAs

The VMAs were a mixed bag, per usual. There were a few highs—Kendrick Lamar’s positively spellbinding opener and Jared Leto’s emotional tribute to Chester Bennington, who took his life earlier this year—but host Katy Perry failed to amuse and a lot of the performances felt half-baked.

But one moment that will go down as an all-time great for the MTV VMAs was the moment Robert Lee IV, a descendant of Robert E. Lee and pastor, took the stage to introduce Heather Heyer’s mother. Heather Heyer was the young woman killed by a white nationalist at the Charlottesville rally earlier this month, and seeing her mother brought on stage by a man whose legacy remains at the center of the current hagiography of the Confederate monuments was pretty astonishing, as were Pastor Lee’s strong words.

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“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate,” he said. “As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin. Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head on.”

Just as powerful were the words from Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, who announced the creation of the Heather Heyer Foundation, a nonprofit that will provide funding to organizations that fight against racism and raise awareness about white privilege. “Only 15 days ago, my daughter was killed as she protested racism,” Bro said. “I miss her, but I know she’s here tonight. I’ve been deeply moved to see people across the world—the whole world!—find inspiration in her courage.”

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