Removing the Stonewall Jackson statue from the Capitol grounds logistically would be a chore, as those who have attempted to shroud the statue or throw paint on it have discovered — the base is a heck of a lot taller than it appears from Kanawha Boulevard. Before considering removal, let’s start smaller.
I’m talking about the bust of Jackson in the lower rotunda of the Capitol.
During one of our newsroom Zoom meetings — I’ve attended more newsroom meetings in the past four months of the pandemic than I had attended in person in the prior 30 years — I recall education reporter Ryan Quinn saying he found the bust to be more disturbing because thousands of school kids pass by it every year, as opposed to the statue, which is located on the least-visited corner of the Capitol grounds.
This spurred me to do a little research, and by little, I mean pulling out my copy of Jim Wallace’s book, “A History of the West Virginia Capitol.”
Unlike the statue, which was unveiled in 1910, lending at least some shred of credibility to the argument it was to honor Confederate soldiers before they moved on to the great battlefield in the sky, the bust was installed not in the 1910s, the ’20s, the ’30s or even the ’40s.
Heck, it barely arrived in the 1950s, as it was presented to the state by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1959 — 94 years after the war ended.
By that point, there were few sons and daughters of Confederate soldiers still with us, and Jackson’s contemporaries were long since dust.
So what compelled the Daughters of the Confederacy to commission and install a Jackson bust 49 years after the statue?
Remember that 1954 gave us the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, and as we know from West Virginia history, while West Virginia integrated its public schools more quickly than many states, some counties acted sooner than others and the process was not without protests and threats of violence.
The timing is unmistakable. As Ryan Best writes in the FiveThirtyEight article, “Confederate Statues Were Never Really About Preserving History,” the vast majority of Daughters of the Confederacy statuary were erected in the early 1900s, “soon after Southern states enacted a number of sweeping laws to disenfranchise Black Americans and segregate society.”
Best notes that another flurry of installing statuary, along with renaming schools and colleges for Confederate generals, followed Brown v. Board in the 1950s. He quotes Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center: “As soon as you get the federal government supporting Black students in schools — including talk of busing and integrating segregated schools — then you had the reassertion of white supremacy.”
Best states: “Black Americans have long understood the symbolism of those monuments.”
“I know what this statue means,” said Brooks. “It’s a reminder to stay in my place.”
This is why the Jackson bust needs to be removed from the Capitol.
I made an inquiry early last week of the Department of Arts, Culture and History regarding petitions calling for a Capitol Building Commission meeting to discuss removal of the Jackson statue and bust, but as of my deadline, had not received a reply.
I also asked about the department’s employment of Ernest Blevins as historian in the state Historical Preservation Office.
As commander of the state chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Blevins has been in the news repeatedly of late, most notably, protesting with a Confederate flag outside the county Board of Education offices before the vote to rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
Blevins has also organized a social media campaign opposing efforts to remove the statuary, directing individuals to contact department officials, including his boss, Arts, Culture and History curator Randall Reid-Smith.
State employees certainly don’t forfeit their ability to have outside interests, but under the circumstances, Blevins’ participation in an organization that at least tangentially promotes white supremacy would seemingly warrant a review.
Given the arrest of Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder for his role in a $60 million bribery scheme to pass legislation providing FirstEnergy Corp. with $1.3 billion in tax breaks, it’s a no-brainer that we would want to look into legislation passed by the West Virginia Legislature in special session last July giving FirstEnergy some $60 million of tax breaks over five years to keep its Pleasants Power Plant open.
Ironically, both legislatures were working out the respective tax cut bills in virtually the same frame last July.
Federal Elections Commission records show that from Jan. 1, 2019, to June 30, FirstEnergy PAC contributed $49,050 to 47 state and legislative candidates.
That includes making election cycle maximum $2,800 total contributions to Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, not long before Justice added the tax break bill to the special session call.
In my experience, West Virginia politicians don’t generally need to be bribed to give tax breaks to Big Coal and energy companies. They happily do it gratis.
However, it seems an independent review of the circumstances leading to introduction, passage and enactment of the tax break bill is needed, if only to provide assurance nothing like what happened in Ohio occurred here.
Justice closed his July 17 COVID-19 briefing by decrying falsehoods about the coronavirus spread on social media, one of which being that the recovery rate from COVID is 99.93%. (State COVID-19 tsar Dr. Clay Marsh pointed out that the mortality rate nationally is 3.8%, not 0.07%.)
During Monday’s briefing, when it was pointed out that President Donald Trump had repeated the falsehood during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Justice said it would be preposterous for him to dare correct the president and suggested Trump was using a “different metric.”
Justice then went on to say how unfairly Trump is treated, especially by media, which he said will analyze 1,000 Trump statements to focus on one fallacy.
“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair because the man is doing a marvelous job,” Justice said.
Justice closed the briefing by bemoaning that the U.S. has crossed the 140,000 threshold in COVID-19 deaths and will be lucky to avoid exceeding 200,000 deaths.
“How in the world have we lost 140,000-plus people in the United States, and a country with multiple tens of millions has lost four or 18 or something like that?” Justice asked, referring to South Korea, a country of 51.3 million that has had fewer than 300 COVID-19 deaths.
If Trump really were doing a marvelous job, the United States would have, perhaps not 300 COVID-19 fatalities, but certainly far fewer than 140,000 deaths.
When the Racing Commission met last week, longtime Chairman Jack Rossi was nowhere to be seen. Even though his current term was to continue through the end of the year and he has been reappointed multiple times, Justice replaced him with Charleston lawyer J.B. Akers.
No explanation was given, but a glance at any campaign filings by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango may provide a clue. The treasurer for the Salango for Governor campaign? Jack Rossi.
(On occasion, I’ve referred to Rossi in print as Joe Rossi, which of course was the name of one of the reporters on the “Lou Grant” TV series. Fortunately, Rossi’s middle name is Joe, so I was technically OK.)