Thirty groups have asked West Virginia’s Capitol Building Commission and Gov. Jim Justice for support in removing a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.
The request came two days after the Capitol Building Commission met without mentioning the statue. Statues of confederates are being removed in public places across the country as the nation examines its history of race relations.
“Nothing was brought up about any of that,” Randall Reid-Smith, chairman of the commission, told The Charleston Gazette-Mail after this week’s meeting.
Today, a letter stated, “Consider this a formal request.”
Groups that signed the letter included Black Lives Matter: West Virginia, State of West Virginia NAACP, American Civil Liberties of West Virginia, Fairness WV, WV Free, WV Working Families Party and more.
The commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans responded with support for the continued presence of the statue at the Capitol.
“Jackson is deserving on the Capitol grounds,” said Ernest Everett Blevins, commander of the Robert S. Garnett Camp 1470, Sons of Confederate Veterans. “He was born in what became West Virginia. His statue was the first one to grace the old Capitol grounds.
“Removing Jackson from the history displayed at the outdoor museum of the capitol grounds is like removing a front tooth from a smile.”
He noted the presence of additional statues on the Capitol grounds such as those for President Abraham Lincoln, the black educator and author Booker T. Washington, a coal miner, veterans, a firefighter and more.
“Removing one for the satisfaction brings division and states that one group is not welcome to the people’s lawn,” Blevins said.
Jackson, who gained renown for leading Confederate forces in key battles, was born in what is part of present-day West Virginia. He died after accidentally being shot by Confederate soldiers, losing an arm to amputation and then succumbing to pneumonia eight days later.
Jackson owned six slaves.
Civil War historian James Robertson wrote that “Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. He probably opposed the institution. Yet in his mind the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times.”
The Kanawha County Board of Education voted this week to remove his name from the West Side school that had been called “Stonewall Jackson” since opening in 1940. More than 40 percent of the students at the middle school are Black, the highest percentage of any school in the state.
A statue of Stonewall Jackson was brought down in Richmond, Virginia’s capital, at the start of this month.
In West Virginia, a statue of Stonewall Jackson is on a prominent corner of the lawn outside the state Capitol, along busy Kanawha Boulevard.
Governor Justice, asked a few weeks ago about his view of the statue, said he doesn’t want any aspect of the state Capitol to be unwelcoming to people. But he questioned whether he has the authority to prompt its removal.
Making reference to those remarks, the groups in their letter asked for his support.
“We ask that you call for immediate removal of the statue,” they wrote.
“It may be a small step toward racial justice, but it is a necessary one.”