As a kid in Lewis County, much of my world was labeled Stonewall or Jackson — or both.
There’s Jackson’s Mill and its Stonewall Jackson Jubilee, Stonewall Jackson Lake and Stonewall Jackson Hospital. Now there’s Stonewall Resort State Park. His name still adorns businesses and buildings, even a urology practice.
“He was a brilliant general and he lived right here when he was a kid!” grown-ups told me. “There’s a statue of him in Clarksburg and in Charleston! Schools are named after him! He’s even carved on a mountain in Georgia! Isn’t his nickname awesome?”
When my family moved to Ohio, I was assigned by my fifth-grade teacher to deliver a book report in costume about a biography. Naturally, I picked Stonewall Jackson and donned gray military garb to parrot tales of his military cunning that I’d been fed — something I now deeply regret.
As I’ve learned more about my onetime hometown hero, I’ve realized what a terrible mistake it has been for me, West Virginians and Virginians to celebrate this guy for so long.
For one, Thomas Jackson was a traitor who fought against the United States and for Black subjugation and white supremacy.
Second, Jackson enslaved at least six human beings: Aunt Amy, Hetty, George, Cyrus, Albert and Emma, who was just 4 years old when Jackson purchased her as a gift to his wife.
Third, Jackson was born on the winning team, geographically in the Civil War, but still picked the losing team. To oversimplify, leaders in his native northwestern Virginia rejected Richmond’s secession and put West Virginia on its path to statehood at the Wheeling Conventions. Instead, Jackson lost his arm, lost his horse, lost his life and the short-lived Confederacy lost the war.
Remind me why we still celebrate this guy and continue to dupe today’s kids into doing the same? Just because people with racist intent donated some statues decades ago?
“But he taught Sunday school to free Blacks and slaves!” some grownups say now. “This is erasing history!”
Please. If anything, West Virginia’s history of being created in defense of the United States was erased — or willfully ignored to send a racist message — whenever Jackson was glorified with another statue or school name.
As the least-diverse state, West Virginia has to try harder than other states to ensure that its monuments and school names reflect its residents’ warmth and live-and-let-live ethos.
Bravo, to Harrison County Commissioner David Hinkle, for his recent stand against Clarksburg’s Jackson statue and decades of disgusting Lost Cause propaganda. Hopefully, Commissioners Ron Watson and Patsy Trecost, Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials come around to the right side of West Virginia’s history soon.
In my travels, I counter snark about my Appalachian roots by rattling off accomplished West Virginians in science, business, entertainment, politics, military history and sports. Let’s elevate them. It’s time West Virginia finally gets over that loser Thomas Jackson for good.