Lexington,VA is a beautiful town. No one can deny that. I’m sure it was a joy to grow up there. And Stonewall Jackson was a part of it. Jackson represents himself in history as one of the greatest generals; a brilliant military tactician who often brought triumph on the battlefield. His methods are reviewed and used by even our modern military! Many theorists through the years have said that if Jackson had lived, Robert E. Lee might have prevailed at Gettysburg. We, no doubt, would not be entertaining the same race conversations we are having today if that had occurred.
Why is there a call for the removal of his and other Confederate statues? There are two major issues, I believe. In general, no other country reveres the losing side in war like the US has done. Couple that with the fact that the war was fought on the premise of preserving the enslavement of black people, something we are not allowed to put on the “back burner” in our lives, as systemic racism still prevails.
Like many Southerners, Stonewall Jackson struggled with his feelings about the institution of slavery, but he felt it was God’s will that it exist—a belief widely held in the South. James Irvin “Bud” Robertson Jr. (July 18, 1930 – November 2, 2019) was an American historian on the American Civil War and professor at Virginia Tech. James Robertson wrote this about Jackson’s view on slavery:
“Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. He probably opposed the institution. Yet in his mind the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times.”
So, I give him credit for treating his slaves better than most That definitely was the exception, not the rule. I will address this a little later as we look into why he treated his slaves this way.
The Confederate monuments existence is primarily due to the efforts of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and were erected long after the Civil War. They are a purposeful reminder of this hurtful and divisive time in US history.
I ask you to examine what happened with the Nazis in Germany. The holocaust happened. It was bad. Thank God, the Nazis were the losing side. Germany cannot and does not desire to erase history. Out of respect for the Jewish families harmed by their actions, Germans don’t glorify Hitler or any of his generals by erecting statues and naming everything in site in their honor. It is against the law to fly a flag with a swastika on it. These things have a place for their remembrance. And now, take the Civil War. It was bad. Slavery was bad. The Confederacy lost. But in this country, especially in the South, we celebrate and revere everything associated with this horrible time in American life.
Now, I want to return to Jackson specifically. It is true that he treated his slaves more humanely than most slave owners. And he went against the norm to actually teach them how to read and write. But it was not because he believed they were equal or because he planned on freeing them at a later time.
Please read the following article from the website, The American Civil War Museum :
Myths & Misunderstandings / Stonewall Jackson’s Sunday School
OCTOBER 12, 2017 by CHRIS GRAHAM
In 1891 the pastor of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s Lexington Presbyterian Church, William S. White, declared that the Virginia Military Institute professor had been “the black man’s friend.” White said so because of Jackson’s supervision of a “Colored Sunday School” between 1855 and the outbreak of the Civil War. Jackson did indeed conduct a Sunday School for enslaved black people, and likely violated state law in encouraging literacy among his students. Testimony by his former enslaved students after the Civil War suggests some affection existed between teacher and pupils. The fact of the Sunday school, then, is no myth. It does, though, serve as a foundation for great misunderstanding.
Confederate heritage activists today deploy these facts in order to distance the Confederate cause from slavery. As one speaker suggested at the July 2017 Monument Avenue Commission meeting, Jackson’s Sunday school contradicts the notion that the Confederacy fought for slavery and white supremacy. If a future Confederate general had been so concerned about the Christian welfare of enslaved people, to the point of teaching them to read, how could his Confederate cause be seen as committed to the brutal enslavement of black people? Others use Jackson’s Sunday school class to claim that slaveholders were great humanitarians and it is not uncommon to encounter the idea that Jackson, and other allegedly “benevolent” slaveholders were actually civil rights pioneers.
These claims are rooted in common misunderstandings about Christianity and American racial slavery.
Jackson’s Sunday school fit seamlessly into a pro-slavery theology that worked not to undermine slavery (as the Sunday School myth claims), but to bolster the institution and make it work according to God’s plans. Pro-slavery Christianity rested on assumptions of the inherent incapacity of black people to manage their own spiritual lives, and the necessity of superior whites to instruct them in proper religion.
In 1830, a Presbyterian planter and minister in the South Carolina low county, Charles Colcock Jones, initiated a program of evangelization of enslaved people. He did so from a sense of paternalistic obligation to the souls of the men and women whose bodies he enslaved. Jones, along with Methodist William Capers, coordinated with masters to schedule preaching, Sunday Schools, and catechetical instruction to plantation slaves, and he published his program, “The Religious Instruction of the Negroes,” in 1842 to be used by evangelicals across the slaveholding states.
Virginia Christians began to press for greater white control of black religious life after Baptist lay preacher Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion revealed the insurrectionary potential of independent black religious leaders and after Northern abolitionists began a frontal assault on the morality of slavery. Methodist and Baptist clergy, and laypeople, took a greater interest in introducing black churchmen and women to what they considered sound theology and practice. Indeed, William White at Lexington Presbyterian Church had expressed frustration that “they [Black people] had become so enamored with a boisterous sort of meeting that they could not relish our calm and quiet method of proceeding.”
Pro-slavery Christians found abundant evidence in the Bible to support slavery. To them, God had ordained slavery as the proper relationship between white and black people. Pro-slavery Christians interpreted that relationship as one of mutual obligation—of command and obedience; care and subservience. White people and masters, then, understood that they had a duty, as faithful Christians, to supervise the Christian instruction of enslaved people. They did intend to save souls, but whites’ heavenly aspirations could only be fulfilled by black acquiescence in an unequal earthly order. Pro-slavery Christianity worked to preserve that order, not subvert it.
By the 1850s, the Mission to the Slaves, or “Religious Instruction of the Colored People,” was in full swing throughout the slaveholding states. Virginia Episcopalians took up the cause in the early 1850s with the publication of Plain Sermons for Servants. In Richmond, St. James Episcopal Church hosted a Sunday School attended by over 100 black people in the 1850s.
Religious people in Lexington had entertained the call to minister to enslaved people since the 1830s, but made few attempts to sustain an effort. The Presbytery of Lexington (the regional administrative body) issued a resolution in August 1857, noting, “The Gospel distinctly recognizes, and sanctions the relation subsisting between master and servant, and as distinctly points out the duties which each owes to the other and among the duties which the master owes to his servant, that of satisfying him with adequate religious instruction is superior in importance.”
The Presbytery issued a list of recommendations, including that each church “be earnestly requested to establish a Sabbath School for their oral instruction in the Shorter Catechism and Sacred Scriptures.” They applauded the work of Bethel and New Providence Presbyterian Churches in this regard, but if Jackson’s school in Lexington was underway at this point, they didn’t notice. They reissued the call in 1860.
Jackson’s story is a window into the complexities arising from interpersonal relationships within slavery and the tension that produced ambivalence within some white southerners. Yet, regardless of the affection he may have shown toward enslaved people, and as politically ambivalent as he may have been about slavery, Jackson fully participated in a larger initiative intended not to end or undermine slavery, but to make slavery and racial inequality work.”
Most black people know that there has always been a racial divide within Christianity. Part of this can be attributed to our inherent sense of community. We tend to congregate with people that are like ourselves – racially, ethnically, age-related, etc. But we also knew we were not welcome in “white” churches, as we were still considered racially inferior.
The following is from an NPR interview :
White Supremacist Ideas Have Historical Roots In U.S. Christianity
– Tom Gjelten ( July 1, 2020 )
At an earlier point in American history, some Christian theologians went so far as to argue that the enslavement of human beings was justifiable from a biblical point of view. James Henley Thornwell (December 9, 1812 – August 1, 1862) was an Harvard-educated scholar and an American Presbyterian preacher and religious writer from the U.S. state of South Carolina during the 19th century. During the American Civil War, Thornwell supported the Confederacy and preached a doctrine that claimed slavery to be morally right and justified by the tenets of Christianity. He committed huge sections of the Bible to memory, regularly defended slavery and promoted white supremacy from his pulpit at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., where he was the senior pastor in the years leading up to the Civil War.
As long as that [African] race, in its comparative degradation, co-exists side by side with the white,” Thornwell declared in a famous 1861 sermon, “bondage is its normal condition.” Thornwell was a slave owner, and in his public pronouncements he told fellow Christians they need not feel guilty about enslaving other human beings.
“The relation of master and slave stands on the same foot with the other relations of life,” Thornwell insisted. “In itself, it is not inconsistent with the will of God. It is not sinful.” The Christian Scriptures, Thornwell said, “not only fail to condemn; they as distinctly sanction slavery as any other social condition of man.”
Among the New Testament verses Thornwell could cite was the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he writes, “Slaves, obey your human masters, with fear and trembling and sincerity of heart.” (Biblical scholars now discount the relevance of the passage to a consideration of chattel slavery.)
Thornwell’s reassurance was immensely important to all those who had a stake in the existing economic and political system in the South. In justifying slavery, he was speaking not just as a theologian but as a Southern patriot. In the First Presbyterian cemetery, Thornwell’s name appears prominently on a monument to church members who served the Confederate cause in the Civil War.
“Slavery, in the minds of many, was necessary for the South to thrive,” said Bobby Donaldson, director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina. “So Thornwell used his pulpit to defend the South against charges by the North, by abolitionists. … He provided the intellectual defenses that many slaveholders needed.”
Thornwell’s First Presbyterian congregation included slave owners and businessmen and other members of the political and economic elite in Columbia, and as their pastor he represented their interests. A belief in white supremacy was a foundational part of Southern culture, which is one reason some otherwise devout Christians have failed to challenge it.
Another couple of excerpts from Washington Post articles that address the events in Charlottesvile, VA in August of 2017 :
How other countries have dealt with monuments to dictators, fascists and racists
By Amanda Erickson (August 15, 2017)
In the United States, the Confederacy is celebrated even today. There are more than 700 Confederate monuments in public parks, courthouse squares and state capitols nationwide. (They’re not all old, either — North Carolina has added 35 such markers since 2000.) The Confederate flag still waves high above some statehouses in the South.
Not so in Germany.
In 1949, the newfound Federal Republic of Germany banned the swastika from public life. And since 1945, its government has worked to systematically get rid of Nazi-era memorials and architecture. Nazi officials were buried in unmarked graves. Swastikas were ground off buildings. Monuments and statues from the Third Reich were torn down. The military jail that housed high-ranking Nazi officials awaiting their war-crimes trials was torn down, so that it would not become a shrine for neo-Nazis. (According to Schofield, “Officials went so far as to pulverize the bricks and throw the remains into the North Sea.”) Zeppelin Field, former home of Nazi party rallies, was fenced off and visitors warned to keep away.
Even Adolf Hitler’s bunker, where he killed himself, was sealed in the early 1990s, after Germany’s reunification. Today, it sits underneath a parking lot marked only with a small plaque. In other instances, Germany has converted the seats of Nazi power into educational spaces. Germans turned the headquarters of the Gestapo, the SS and the Reich Security Service into a museum called the Topography of Terror, which tells of the horrors carried out by those who worked there. The Nazi-era High Command of the Armed Forces has been converted into the German Resistance Memorial Center. Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, used by Hitler to glorify fascism during the 1936 Games, was reopened for a celebration of Jewish athletes. (German students spend part of each year learning about the atrocities of Nazi Germany and are required to visit at least one concentration camp before they graduate.)
“I think with the fall of the Nazi regime, Germans realized the only way to again become a valid nation was to eliminate the symbols. Banning them was appropriate,” Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, told McClatchy. “Americans made a different choice with the symbols of the Confederacy.”
‘We have drawn a different lesson from history’: How the world is reacting to violence in Charlottesville
August 14, 2017
In countries such as Germany and France that have adopted strict codes policing hateful speech, there were also questions about why people carrying guns were allowed to assemble and propagate a message targeting racial and religious minorities.
“Most people in Germany have difficulty understanding that gatherings like in Charlottesville are possible in the U.S., because we have drawn a different lesson from history,” said Matthias Jahn, chairman of criminal law at Goethe University in Frankfurt. “Our German law centers on the strong belief that you should hinder this kind of speech in a society committed to principles of democratic coexistence and peace.”
This is America and I don’t advocate hindering the principle of “free speech”. However, even in America, you don’t have the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater if there is not one present! Hate speech should be deemed equally as incendiary and destructive. And statues, erected for the sole purpose as a reminder of white superiority qualify as well.
My next post will dive into the role the United Daughters of the Confederacy played in all of this.