Successful Vote to remove Confederate General Stonewall Jackson Statue-
And why statue removals have hit so many headlines
The Virginia Military Institutes Board of Visitors have voted to remove the statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson after calls for the state-supported military school to address allegations of racism.
Black cadets attending the school described what they have had to endure to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who ordered an independent investigation into what he called “ the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism at the Virginia Military Institute.”
VMI Superintdent, General J.H Binford Peay the 3rd, resigned in the wake of the controversy as he had resisted the calls to remove the statute, labelling Jackson a “military genius” and a “staunch Christian”.
But why were there so many calls to remove the statue? What did it stand for?
Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, was an esteemed General of he Confederates during the Civil War, a breakaway state in existence from 1861-1865 that fought against the United States of America during the American Civil War, as they believed that the institution of slavery should have been protected.
His statue had stood in front of the student barracks for years, and students were actually mandated to salute it until a few years ago. This would have been extremely difficult for black cadets, to salute a statue of a man who fought for the abhorrent slavery trade to stay in place.
The board did not clarify where the statue would be going, however Chairman Bill Boland said it may be taken to New Market, a Civil War battlefield where VMI cadets fought during the war.
2020 has been a year full of unusual happenings, and statue-removal has certainly been one of the unprecedented incidents dotted throughout the year, but this is much more important than the simple removal of stone, it is the removal of celebrations of systemic racism; not the removal of history completely as some have argued.
Here in the UK, there were mass debates and lots of media attention regarding the removal of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue by BLM protesters in Bristol. The statue was removed and rolled into the waters of Bristol Harbour. This was an iconic moment as protesters decided that enough was enough, and they did not want to live with a statue celebrating a well-renowned slave trader, who governed the Royal African Company for 11 years, and whilst it cant undo the travesties that black people historically have endured, it can stop the celebration of them. Rather than build statues for these types of people, we shuold be teaching in history classes the dark history of slavery, educating future generations for them to be able to fully understand and acknowledge why black people will feel uncomfortable knowing that former slave traders are rewarded with post-humous statues.
With the news of Stonewall Jacksons statue removal, alongside the recent toppling of Edward Colstons’, we are beginning to see the fall of celebrating racism, a tradition that has gone on for far too long, whilst Colston and Jackson may have been important to the history of Britain and the USA, this doesn’t take away from the fact that there stories are plagued with racism and this cannot be idolised in any way.
Many people opposing statue-toppling debate that it is “removing history” and note the fact that it was “a different time period” where race relations where at a dismal low. This is not an excuse to reward these men with statues, whilst they were indeed from a different time period, this does not stop their acts and attitudes from being directly racist, and if it wasn’t for their actions, perhaps black people would not have had to endure such disastrous histories, on both sides of the Atlantic.
So, as campaigns continue to remove other statues with dark histories, notably the Winston Churchill one in London, it is important to remember that this is NOT the deletion of history. This is putting a stop to celebrating and idolising men who had deep racist attitudes, men who in fact based their career on prejudicial feelings, and there is absolutely nothing to cheer about on this basis.
Perhaps, this will lead to better education on the history of systemic racism. Perhaps, it could lead to further removals of statues across the globe. Perhaps, it will lead to emotional debates across news platforms and social media; but what can be confirmed is the fact that:
Certainly, it is for the better of society.