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It is time to reckon with Confederate monuments on public property in West Virginia, including those dedicated to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

I grew up in Charleston, where Jackson’s status as a folk hero never made sense to me. Why would we honor a man who would have destroyed West Virginia itself? As time passed, I realized few people thought about it; eventually, neither did I.

That is the most insidious part of systemic, institutionalized racism: We aren’t meant to think about it. Jackson’s Capitol statue, as well as Stonewall Jackson High School (now a middle school) were put in place to close off conversation about the past, not open it. We learned to overlook how a man could betray his oath and country for a cause that Gen. Ulysses Grant called “one of the worst for which a people ever fought.”

Whenever the subject of eliminating Confederate memorials comes up, opponents ask “where will it end?” Yes, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were faulted and owned slaves, but we memorialize them because, unlike Robert E. Lee and Jackson, their highest ideals became the foundations of our nation. Those ideals allowed the United States to, in Jefferson’s words, “advance to keep pace with the times,” recognizing that continued “enlightenment” would mean change. When that means that we can see them for the imperfect men they were, their ideals are at their strongest.

The Mountain State is filled with more worthy heroes who embody Montani semper liberi for all. Let them stand in Jackson’s place.

Randall Stewart

Arlington, Virginia