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Across the Unites States south are 188 public schools named after Confederate Heroes. This initiative was organized by white supremacist groups and The Daughters of the Confederacy to preserve the ideals they held so strongly that African Americans remain in slavery to support the economic vitality of the new country. Dubbed, 'The Massive Resistance,' this movement is a strong reminder then and now that there are citizens who are unwilling to accept the equality of all people and reminisce about the the good ole days.
West Virginia's position is especially ironic. Created from the civil strife primarily because the mountains of western Virginia had no potential for harvesting the plantation crops or managing slaves, West Virginia was born from their secession from Virginia and allegiance to the Republican Union. The name of Confederates upon public schools and buildings is not only a slap in the face to African American slaves and Union soldiers of all races, but also Confederates who fought to prevent its statehood.
The following opinion was published in the Charleston Gazette in 2011 when a tree fell on the lawn of what remains a school named after the most successful general of the Confederacy. Ironically and sadly, it happens to educate the highest number of African American middle school students in the State of WV. This is a new preface to start a new conversation:
"Four years ago a tree fell to protest the ill conceived ideals of a racist regime. This opinion was written to honor the lives of millions of African American victims of that regime & the life of the tree that spoke in protest. What will it take for Charleston WV to recognize the tacit acceptance of a way of life that relied on the dehumanization & degradation of others?Hopefully, not in the wake of a tragedy that it took for Charleston SC ."
Originally Published: Thursday, September 08, 2011
The Tree Has Spoken
Byline: GREGG FERGUSON MCALLISTER
ONE of my favorite poems is "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer: "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.
"A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
"A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray. ..."
How majestic - trees as a personification of grace and patience and spirituality. Are they watching the world around them with feelings, perhaps sadness, joy, anger?
Hmmm, it seems the tree has spoken.
As I rode past the toppled pin oak on Washington Street, I thought, "It couldn't take it anymore." It came crashing down and took with it the sign that stood in its shadow for as long as it lived. "Stonewall Jackson."
The tree said to the state of West Virginia what I was cautioned not to. It's time to move on. It's time to be sensitive. It's time to be politically correct. It's time to pass the torch to a new and more perfect ideology - a new and more perfect Union, that was saved by the war in which Stonewall Jackson fought as a confederate general.
He fought and lost. The country, still torn by segregation and Jim Crow, named an all white public school after the gentleman who is boasted to have wanted his personal slaves to learn to read and write - as though it erased the sad truth that he fought for the wrong cause.
Even though it was wrapped up in "the right for state governance," he fought so that other slave owners could make that same decision, or not, for African-American human beings. I'm sure their feelings were hurt by the state of their lives. I wonder what his name meant to them?
The school sits on what was the hilly bastion of white supremacy in Charleston, amidst the plantations and Big Houses of Glenwood and Littlepaige that overlooked the flats which housed the poor whites, some freed blacks, and many of the slave quarters of those working in the salt mines and as constructors of the new Capitol. It was integrated in the 1950s with armed National Guardsmen escorting an entourage of brave African-American teens, just like in Topeka.
My aunt heard them hurling the slurs with the eggs and rocks as she walked up that hill from the bus stop. It hurt their feelings, but didn't break their spirits. A school named after Stonewall Jackson, Confederate general. I wonder what his name meant to them?
The neighborhood changed, those in the hills of Edgewood sent their children to Charleston Catholic and GW, as the West Side took an economic hit. The diversion of friendly, yet passionate, rivalry with Charleston High kept spirits high and his name became disassociated with what he'd done to earn his fame, and more with how many football championships they won. West Virginia was not the target of the same scrutiny as many, more southern public schools.
Federal and state regulators were designing legislation that made public institutions respond to the sensitivities of all of their constituents, regardless of the local culture. Most state governments willingly changed the names of public institutions, and especially schools, which did not reflect cultural sensitivity. Most notably was the acceptance that slavery was wrong and that no public institution would glorify those that owned slaves or fought for others to own them. And although many eminent men and women have diverse resumes, some went so far as to strip presidents like George Washington and, even, Thomas Jefferson of the honor because they'd been slave owners despite their other accomplishments. Most Confederate names and the flag were removed from publicly owned buildings because they stood for an ideal that hurt most citizens' feelings.
Stonewall Jackson Middle School educates more African-American students than any other middle school in Charleston, if not Kanawha County, if not the region, if not the state. That they should lend their talents in the name of a Confederate general is astounding to me. It hurts my feelings. It's akin to Jewish children going to a school named after a notorious Nazi.
Where would those children be if the Nazis had won? Where would the African-American children on the West Side be if the Confederacy had won? Because he probably was a great man fighting for the wrong side, I think General Jackson would probably admit that if he could do it over, he would fight for a different legacy.
My feelings are hurt that those whose tax dollars pay for the school, should not question it, much less, all those paid to be at the forefront of cultural sensitivity like educators, and journalists, and counselors, and clergy, and elected officials.
I think that great pin oak had hurt feelings, too. It may have even gotten angry, the way it came crashing down on his name.
What Can We Rename the School?