One last dramatic scene awaited the rebirth of the Republic. Back in Richmond, soon after the war was over, the congregation of St. Paul’s met again for the usual Sunday services, which were to be the Episcopalian Order of Holy Communion.
The Richmond gentry and the former leaders of the Confederacy were present as usual in spite of the destruction of much of the city. When it came time for the faithful to kneel before the altar and take the Eucharistic bread and wine, a joyful young black man strode forth and knelt at the altar rail alongside the white congregants.
A silence and a gasp went across the segregated congregation. This had never happened before, and the clergy were frozen in their places not sure what to do. A black man kneeling beside a white man? It was unknown in the old South.
From the back of St. Paul’s a lone figure in a gray suit walked forward and knelt beside the freed slave. With a look of command he nodded to the priests, who gave both him and the black man Holy Communion together, eating bread from the same paten and drinking wine from the same cup.
The lone figure was Robert E. Lee, who knelt beside the man whose slavery, among other things, he had only recently fought to defend. And when the vanquished Southern commander came to the altar, the rest of the congregation followed him as well, white and black together.