The most surprising moment at Sunday’s VMA ceremony wasn’t Pink riding on a classic car over the audience or Fifth Harmony bidding a symbolic goodbye to ex-member Camila Cabello. It was a speech from Robert Lee IV, descendant of the Confederate general, calling out “white supremacy.”
“As a pastor it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” said Lee, who is Robert E. Lee’s great-great-great nephew. He is a pastor at the Bethany United Church of Christ of Winston-Salem located in North Carolina.
Lee’s short but poignant speech was extremely timely following the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Three people were left dead following a violent clash between alt-right supporters protesting the removal of a Confederate statue and anti-racists. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a car plowed through a crowd of counter-protesters. Several more were injured.
The Confederate general’s namesake appeared on stage to introduce Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro.
“We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s march in January, and especially Heather Heyer,” Lee said before Bro appeared on stage to rapturous applause from the audience.
During her brief appearance, Bro announced that a foundation would be started in her daughter’s name to fight white supremacy.
“My daughter was killed as she protested racism,” she said, holding back tears during her speech. “Today I’m announcing the launch of the Heather Heyer Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will provide scholarships to help more people join Heather’s fight against hatred.”
“I want people to know that Heather never marched alone,” Bro added. “She was always joined by people of every race and every background in this country.”
In honor of Heyer’s memory, Bro announced that all six of the artists nominated in MTV’s “Fight Against the System” category would win. Nominees included Big Sean, Taboo, Alessia Cara, and John Legend. The award recognizes musicians who used their public platform to send a political message.