Although the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia focused on planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, attention has also shifted to monuments and roads named after the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.
Stonewall Jackson’s descendants – his great-great grandsons Jack and Warren Christian – penned a letter calling for removal of monuments honoring their ancestor because they consider them racist. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, already under fire for his comments on the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, lambasted removing Confederate statues, tweeting on August 17 that it was sad and foolish.
According to History.net, Stonewall Jackson “won his nickname at the Battle of First Bull Run (First Manassas), but it was his actions at Harpers Ferry in 1861, his 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and the flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville that made him a military legend. Only General Robert E. Lee occupies a higher place in the Confederate pantheon.”
What was Stonewall Jackson’s relationship with slavery, though? Did he own slaves? Did his family?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stonewall Jackson Owned Slaves & Was From a Slave-Owning Family
The Confederate General Stonewall Jackson did own slaves, and members of his family did too. Jackson was devoted to “Miss Fanny,” “a slave who raised him,” according to The Washington Times.
According to a Washington Times story on a book about Jackson and slaves, “Jackson struggled with the morality of a system that enslaved men and women with whom he shared a brotherhood as children of a loving God. Yet those same Scriptures that taught salvation also recorded centuries of slaveholding all over the world, which provided Jackson with the simplistic rationale that if it was condoned by the Bible, it must be acceptable.”
Stonewall Jackson was born “Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). His father, a lawyer, died when young Thomas was six and the death left the family impoverished. His mother later remarried but her new husband didn’t like her children, and young Thomas was sent to live with relatives,” according to Know Southern History. History.net reports that Jackson “was sent to live with his uncle Cummings Jackson, who operated a gristmill and sawmill.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor, “Jackson came from what is now West Virginia, a part of the country where slavery was not really very common. He had slaves when he grew up, his uncles had slaves and he had slaves of his own, but he acquired three to help them avoid worse fates.”
2. Jackson Founded a Sunday School for Slaves That Defied Virginia Law
It wasn’t legal in Virginia at that time to teach slaves to read and write, but Jackson defied that dictum. “Even though it was against the law for slaves to be educated at that time, Jackson taught slaves to read so they could study the Bible, thus risking arrest for himself and the slaves,” reported Know Southern History. “During the war, Jackson occasionally sent money back home to support the black Sunday school class he had established.”
Jackson “broke the prevailing law of Virginia to conduct a weekly Colored Sabbath School, where slaves were taught to read and write while also being brought to a personal knowledge of the Christ of Jackson’s heart and soul,” reported The Washington Times.
“Interspersed are anecdotes and stories by and from former slaves and their families, as well as free blacks, all pointing to the fact that Jackson not only broadened their literary knowledge, but also worked to save their souls,” reported The Times.
According to History.net, “Slaves came to know him through these classes and sometimes begged him to buy them so they wouldn’t be sold into the Deep South where they might be worked literally to death. In 1906, long after Jackson’s death, Reverend L. L. Downing, whose parents had been among the slaves in Jackson’s Sunday school, raised money to have a memorial window dedicated to him in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, Virginia—likely making ‘Stonewall’ the only Confederate general to have a memorial in an African American church.”
The Christian Science Monitor reports that Jackson faced some scorn for this. “He taught slaves to read, and he was accosted in the street by people who said, ‘You can’t do this,'” the news site quoted an author of a book on Stonewall Jackson. “There’s even a church near Roanoke with a stained-glass window portrait of Jackson put up by one of his students in the Sunday school.”
3. Jackson’s Descendants Want the Statues Removed, Calling Them ‘Overt Symbols of Racism’
Stonewall Jackson’s descendants have penned a letter supporting removal of the monuments. Jack and Warren Christian penned the open letter asking for the removal of the statues in Richmond, Virginia.
“As two of the closest living relatives to Stonewall, we are writing today to ask for the removal of his statue, as well as the removal of all Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. They are overt symbols of racism and white supremacy, and the time is long overdue for them to depart from public display. Overnight, Baltimore has seen fit to take this action. Richmond should, too,” they wrote.
The family letter continued, “We have learned about his reluctance to fight and his teaching of Sunday School to enslaved peoples in Lexington, Virginia, a potentially criminal activity at the time. We have learned how thoughtful and loving he was toward his family. But we cannot ignore his decision to own slaves, his decision to go to war for the Confederacy, and, ultimately, the fact that he was a white man fighting on the side of white supremacy.”
The great-great grandsons wrote that they preferred to honor their ancestor Laura Jackson Arnold. “As an adult Laura became a staunch Unionist and abolitionist. Though she and Stonewall were incredibly close through childhood, she never spoke to Stonewall after his decision to support the Confederacy,” they wrote.
4. Stonewall Jackson Monuments, Markers & the Name Are Being Removed Across the United States
Meanwhile, on August 17, statue removals focused on Lee but also Jackson as some officials rushed to get rid of them.
“Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed from the CUNY hall of great Americans because New York stands against racism,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted.
On August 16, statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were removed from public parks in Baltimore, Maryland.
The “Unite the Right Rally” that drew Nazis and white supremacists to Charlottesville in the first place had focused on the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city’s park.
5. President Trump Controversially Decried Removal of the ‘Beautiful’ Statues
In an early morning tweet on August 17, Trump called removing “beautiful” Confederate monuments and statues “foolish.”
Trump did not specifically use the word Confederate in his tweet, but it came amidst news of more Confederate statues and monuments coming down throughout the U.S., making it clear what he meant.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” Trump tweeted. “The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
Here are the actual Trump tweets:
The president also criticized Lindsey Graham on Twitter for saying he had made a moral equivalency between Nazis and other protesters.
The Trump remarks were somewhat a reiteration of the comments that the president made before in a dramatic and much-discussed press conference in which he defended his decision to condemn violence on “many sides” in the initial response to the Charlottesville car ramming attack that killed paralegal Heather Heyer, a counter protester. Trump later condemned white supremacists but was criticized for not calling them out immediately and for saying that there were good and bad people on both sides of the Charlottesville clashes. (James Alex Fields, an accused Hitler admirer, was charged in the murder of Heyer, and videos and photos showed Neo Nazis marching through the streets with torches.)
In that press conference, Trump also broached the fact that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and there are monuments to them. However, the president doubled down on August 17, taking it one step farther by dubbing the statues “beautiful” and removing them “foolish.”
In the earlier press conference, Trump had said, in part, “George Washington as a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me. Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner.”