A Call to Pull Down Stonewall

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia I had cause to venture east from the university and visit downtown Charlottesville.  The folks in Charlottesville were just commencing their efforts to revitalize the area with a pedestrian mall that by now has become an attractive gathering place (I first saw Star Wars down there in 1977; I found several local bookstores more compelling).

Just north of the pedestrian mall, along Jefferson Street, there were two parks, a few short blocks apart.  One, Lee Park, featured a rather striking equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee; a second, to the east, had an equally attractive equestrian statue of Stonewall Jackson (with a statue of a Confederate veteran not far away in front of the county courthouse).  I was fond of both parks, and I’ve revisited them when I was last in Charlottesville several years ago.

It never occurred to me that the statues should be taken down.  I’m sure some people will tell me that’s a personal shortcoming, and others will be astonished that such a thought never passed my mind.  I can understand better arguments about moving statues of Confederates out of the United States Capitol, and I’m well aware that Richmond has had its share of statue controversies.  But it seems to me that history would be better served, not by taking statues down, but by pushing for more historical interpretation of various sites that incorporated various perspectives.  After all, there was also a statue of Lewis and Clark not too far away from the ones to Lee and Jackson, and one could argue that their expedition led to the exploitation of the West by white expansion, etc.

So it took me by some surprise when I learned that there was a fellow in West Virginia who wanted to have the state remove a statue of Stonewall Jackson from that state’s capital grounds.  As a resident of South Carolina for three years, I was well aware of other state capitals surrounded by Confederate monuments (and more).  The only thing that irked me about the state capitol at Columbia was — you guessed it — the Confederate flag that flew atop the building’s dome (I was not nearly so offended by the stars on the building marking where Union artillery shells struck the building).  The newspaper article reporting the efforts of one Howard Swint to have the statue removed and the comments of other people concerning this idea were, frankly, rather predictable, and in the end it’s up to West Virginians to decide what to do.

And that would be the end of the story … except I came across a Facebook group whose members felt strongly about this issue.  It’s called the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.  Here are some of the comments from its participants:

Remove Stonewall’s statue/monument? Them’s fightin’ words!

I just don’t understand why people like this man wants to remove statues of our Confederate Leaders? How is it harming them, darn it’s just a statue and he isn’t even black. Not that if he was black it would be alright because it wouldn’t be. All I know is that I really do not like Liberal White People.. 😦

He’s an idiot but this is America and he can voice his own opinion however he wants..unfortunately

Once I read a PC activist saying: “I want to tell my grandchildren I stood up to the Confederate flag.”
To me the best justice will be when those same grandchildren look at that same fool with the sort of embarrassment that the grandchildren of segregationists now do.

These people will keep pushing till they force another parting of the ways. Their agenda is one of anti-southern & Caucasian heritage & history. I’d like to see them have a land of their own where they could put up monuments and name everything after MLK, or abe, Marx, Che, all they want. I just don’t want em around.

Howard Swint….just another PC Fascist.

We may not have a sympathetic media, or anything but we have a conviction for our heritage and Southern honor that no PC fascist, no Scalawag, or no Yankee Apologist could ever have.

Wow. 

I am curious as to how many of the commenters actually live in West Virginia (several do not).  Otherwise, it would be hard for them to say they support state rights and the choice of the people of a state to do what they want to do while at the same time telling people in another state what to do.

Let’s let the people in West Virginia decide what they’re going to do.  Surely the very same people who said that South Carolinians should be left to decide whether they wanted the Confederate Battle Flag to fly over the state house in Columbia should be consistent when it comes to having West Virginians chose what they want to commemorate.  After all, that’s exactly the argument offered by one of the commenters:

Apparently this man is not from WV and knows nothing of the history of our country or state.

If being from West Virginia is what’s at stake here, then anyone not from West Virginia should shut up, right?

20 thoughts on “A Call to Pull Down Stonewall

  1. Lyle Smith July 27, 2011 / 6:37 pm

    I’m with you professor. Iconoclasm is not the way to go. If Stonewall comes down, what is Charlottesville, VA supposed to about Jefferson’s Monticello… burn it down? Woe to the horrible things that occurred on that estate.

    I don’t think we’re headed for a little red book moment in our future where forward minded people rush to obliterate the old, but there’s a little bit of it out there and I for one look forward to standing up to it.

    Better to build new monuments to supplement or supersede the old ones which are now history itself.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 27, 2011 / 6:43 pm

      Indeed. Monticello’s an excellent example of what one can do. When I first visited in 1974 it was simply Mr. Jefferson’s lovely house, and he had servants. Now it’s understood to be a house where Jefferson worked and a plantation where slaves worked, and, whatever you make of the stories about Jefferson and Sally Hemings, you get a better idea of life at Monticello, just as you do at Mount Vernon.

  2. TF Smith July 27, 2011 / 9:21 pm

    What I found interesting in the article from the Charleston paper is that there was no information about when the statue was erected, who paid for it, and what “their” motivations may have been…that would be interesting historiography that would help put it in context.

    I have suspicions as to when and who was probably responsible, but I’d rather know the factual background.

    Best,

  3. Kevin July 28, 2011 / 3:35 am

    As a former teacher from Charlottesville, those three sites hold a great deal of meaning for me. I used all three monuments to introduce my students to the Civil War as well as issues related to public memory. We should be trying to better understand these sites rather than calling for their removal.

  4. Sharryn July 28, 2011 / 4:23 am

    I live in Mount Pleasant, SC, the natives can be entertaining, with there attitudes and opinions, but I moved here.. so I chuckle and move on…..

  5. Charlie Persinger July 28, 2011 / 7:53 am

    Im from WV and I think its silly to have a Stonewall statue up at the state capital! Jackson would have been against the creation of the state of West Virginia! I think statues for Bob Denver or Don Knotts would be more appropriate for West Virginia.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 28, 2011 / 8:42 am

      To me this is an issue for West Virginians to figure out. Many of the same people who deplore outsiders when it comes to Confederate heritage issues are outsiders in this case. But then I’ve never seen much consistency from certain Confederate heritage groups.

  6. Ray O'Hara July 28, 2011 / 8:15 am

    Even though Jackson is from WVA it is odd they erected a statue of him seeing how they went during the War.

    One doesn’t find a statue of Benedict Arnold in Hartford.

    Both were traitors but at least Arnold contributed positively before he went bad.

    maybe they should move Jackson to Clarksburg.

    the first time I visited the U.S.Capitol I was amazed and appalled to find R.E.Lee in the rotunda statue gallery, Va has plenty of great men they could have there, if they wanted a general why no G.C.Marshall?

    • TF Smith July 29, 2011 / 8:21 am

      GC Marshall was born in Pennsylvania; one would think a fitting subsititute for RE Lee for Virginia would be George Thomas.

      Best,

    • Phil March 25, 2012 / 12:24 pm

      “Even though Jackson is from WVA it is odd they erected a statue of him seeing how they went during the War.”

      Not odd at all. West Virginia’s Civil War history is pretty complex, Ray, and there was anything but unanimity about choosing sides there. You’ll find courthouse statues in the southern and eastern counties that commemorate Confederate rather than Union soldiers. I’m a 9th generation West Virginian, and my family was certainly on both sides of the war–though the union loyalists were much more successful in surviving it. The secession commissioner from my Ohio River county, located between Parkersburg and Wheeling and theoretically a loyalist stronghold, voted for secession at the first convention.

      In choosing the borders of the proposed new state, the statemakers were a little overambitious in annexing counties, and certainly did not foresee the way political power would shift as soon as the ex-confederates regained the franchise. As a result the Republicans were out of power by the early 1870s, with the counties bordering Virginia tipping the balance to Democrats for better than a generation. The new progressive constitution was duly rewritten along the lines of Virginia’s antebellum constitution, paving the way for the patterns of industrialization and underdevelopment that has plagued the state since.

      Given that the statue was erected in 1910 and has been part of the capitol complex since then, it fits quite logically in WV’s political and historical context and I don’t find any conflict here. I think a statue of Stonewall perfectly represents the complexity and ambiguity that characterizes a state born in the midst of chaos and expediency.

  7. Ned Baldwin July 28, 2011 / 10:50 am

    Seems to me that the comments you quote show that being from West Virginia is not really what’s at stake. Race, ideology and intelligence are the factors brought up in most of the comments that oppose removing the statue at the state house.

  8. Bob Huddleston July 28, 2011 / 5:21 pm

    Virginia put up both of their statutes in 1934: Washington and Lee. In the context of 1934, “Lee the American” was an obvious choice!

    There is a great deal of local politics in the choices for the statues. In 1997, Astronaut Jack Swigert had just been elected to Congress as a Republican when he died. The state legislature was controlled by the Republicans so they chose him as our second statue.

    Take a look at the list — and the dates they were erected — at http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/nsh/index.cfm

  9. TF Smith July 29, 2011 / 8:23 am

    Another example of the fittingness of the 50-year-rule for public commmoration, other than KIA.

  10. Terry Walbert July 29, 2011 / 12:47 pm

    In Baltimore we have a statue of Lee and Jackson meeting before the battle of Chancellorsville. While I tend toward unreconstructed Yankee in my Civil War loyalties, I rather like the statue. In my view, anyone “offended” by it is choosing to be offended and seeking a moral advantage through victimhood.

    • Brooks D. Simpson July 29, 2011 / 12:50 pm

      I’ve seen that statue. Some say it really represents “Where would Lee and Jackson have gone had Jackson been at Gettysburg?”

  11. TF Smith July 30, 2011 / 9:23 am

    Straight to hell?

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