The name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School should be changed. While Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is part of West Virginia’s history, he is not part of our heritage. There is a difference, which clarifies why we should keep other memorials honoring other admittedly imperfect people. Allow me to explain.
History documents what happened. For instance, convicted murderer Charles Manson lived in Charleston for a time. Sarah Jane Moore, President Gerald Ford’s attempted assassin, was born here.
And there were at least five serial killers who have lived in our state. These people are part of our history.
But they are not our heritage.
Heritage is that part of history we honor to encourage future generations. Heritage isn’t all of history.
As a nation, we should emulate supportive behavior. Supportive of what? “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winner and holder of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Endowed Chair in the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University, further adds, “Our monuments should honor our ‘pursuit of a more perfect Union.’ ”
So, we honor people whose lives exemplify that pursuit while understanding people are not perfect.
George Washington, namesake of a local high school, and “Father” of our nation, owned slaves.
Thomas Jefferson, the namesake of my now-demolished junior high, was a Founding Father and principal author of our Declaration of Independence. He was a proponent of democracy, republicanism and individual rights. He owned slaves, as well.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd was the most influential West Virginia legislator in our nation’s history. At the time of his death, he was the longest-serving member of Congress, four times was third in line of presidential succession and was elected to more leadership positions than any senator ever.
Yet, he was a young member of the KKK who later renounced racism. In later years, Byrd enjoyed a perfect rating from the NAACP and was the first to propose funds for a Martin Luther King National Memorial.
All imperfect people with one thing in common: Their service to our nation outweighed their imperfections and helped us toward a more perfect union.
Now, consider the question of honoring Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall Jackson died fighting to propagate slavery and to overthrow the government of the United States. Part of our history, but not our heritage.
We shouldn’t hold up people who want to overthrow our government for our children to emulate.
The Confederacy ended with the end of the Civil War. Confederates lost. Yankees won. No Confederate or Yankee since has died for our nation. No Confederate or Yankee stormed the beaches of Normandy. Nor did any die in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Americans did, however. And those are the ones who should be glorified.
Stonewall Jackson High School was named in 1939, during a period when the United Daughters of the Confederacy advocated for Confederate recognition through monuments and historical markers. It is unknown if the naming of the high school was directly related.
Nevertheless, today’s Stonewall is a middle school whose student population is 42% Black, the highest proportion in West Virginia.
Eighty years after opening and 155 years after the Civil War ended, it’s time to rename the school. And I’m a white Republican with ancestral ties to the Confederacy advocating this.
To my Stonewall Jackson friends, don’t fear your loss of history. That won’t happen. I graduated from Charleston High, which closed in 1989 and was demolished. None of us alumni have lost our history. We are still proud graduates.
It’s just time for us to allow today’s students to create their heritage, not celebrate our history. We’ll all benefit.