“The Great Champion of Enslaved Black Men and Women”

Who you might ask is "the great champion of enslaved black men and women"?  Well, according to a soon-to-be-released documentary the answer is Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.  That’s right, a slaveowner is being given this honor.  Check out the trailer here.  Isn’t it interesting that the people who support this interpretation are the very same people who whine on and on about evil revisionist historians.  What does it say about people who are willing to twist our understanding of basic other-regarding concepts all for the purpose of preserving some silly/overly simplistic view of the past?  Don’t you think that one of the first conditions necessary to make the short list of such a category is that you don’t happen to own any slaves?  We could go on and ask what else is necessary, but that seems to be a reasonable starting point.

The narrator at one point admits that his attraction to Jackson is based on the fact that "you can’t pin this guy down…he is such a surprise."  Now that’s some serious historical analysis.  Wake me up when this nightmare is over.

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11 comments… add one

  • chris graham Sep 24, 2007

    I know this is a cheap shot…but can’t help thinking of it this week…their business logo reminds me of Jena, La.

  • Michael Aubrecht Sep 24, 2007

    Kevin, you’re actually comfortable criticizing a film that hasn’t even been released yet – based on a book that you openly admitted that you never even read. Isn’t that being a bit “over simplistic” too?

  • Larry Cebula Sep 25, 2007

    The Franklin Springs logo is a tree in silhouette with a tire swing. But the swing looks like a noose to me.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2007

    Michael, — I have actually read a large chunck of Williams’s book. It is one of the most shoddy pieces of research that I’ve ever come across. As for the movie you are absolutely correct that I have not seen it, but I was only commenting on the idiotic phrase quoted above. I guess we just disagree on this one. I was taught that it is wrong to own slaves and wrong to praise individuals for doing so.

  • John Maass Sep 25, 2007

    Jackson has over the years in books and lectures been given great credit for teaching the black Sunday school at the Lexington Pres. Church. Very few biographies of him fail to mention it. As a youngster just getting into the Civil War, I used to read that brief mention of his connection with slavery and think how interesting that was. But as I got older and more widely-read, it dawned on me that this little snipet (sp?) was really all that anyone ever included about TJJ and slavery. How come? Why is it that TJJ fought a war and gave his life to a cause dedictated to preserving slavery, yet spoke and wrote very little about it, and so many treatments of the man igonore it altogether (e.g., Wilson Greene’s collection of essays entitled “Whatever You Resolve to Be,” recently reissued in paper by UT Press.) So for me, one can say that TJJ was not “”the great champion of enslaved black men and women” because he was a slaveowner (a valid argument), one can also say that there’s too evidence little out there to go down that path anyway. In fact it seems like what these folks are trying to do is say “Hey look–Stonewall liked blacks–isn’t he even greater than we though?!?!” Kinda like saying that since Hitler liked animals and was a vegetarian, he wasn’t all that bad.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2007

    John, — Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The sad thing is that the question of J’s views of slavery and his decision to hold religious classes for his slaves is a legitimate and interesting subject. The problem is that the people who tend to talk about it possess very litte in terms of research ability and are committed to using the story in support of an ahistorical claim (i.e., that he is the embodiment of all that is good, God’s best friend, blah, blah, blah). I would like to know whether J’s behaviour fits into a broader context in the 1850s. Are there other examples of black religious schools? Why were they started and what were their goals?

  • Brendan Wolfe Sep 25, 2007

    I’m no historian, and I’m drawing on stuff I read a long time ago — but weren’t the religious classes for slaves an attempt to pacify them, to cleave them to their condition as slaves? It backfired, of course. But I can imagine a person like Jackson teaching Sunday school not out of any special love (or hatred) for his slaves, but out of his own religious conviction and out of the belief that such learning was necessary for them . . . as slaves.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2007

    The problem with such absurd claims is that it significantly alters the broader picture of attitudes re: slavery towards the end of the antebellum period. What are we now to do with Frederick Douglass, Harriett Beecher Stowe, or William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison believed in an immediate end to slavery followed by full civil rights. Isn’t he more of a champion for slaves compared to a slaveowner who runs a Sunday school? Just a thought. And no I don’t believe that Garrisson was a moral saint.

  • Cash Sep 25, 2007

    Kevin,

    As I’ve said before, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Old Jack,” but you’re absolutely right that calling him a great champion of enslaved blacks is utter nonsense.

    Yes, he saw it as his Christian duty to teach them to read the Bible, and yes, he saw it as his Christian duty to treat blacks “fairly” (as he conceived “fair treatment” to someone he owned to be). As a master he was “kind.” But never forget he was a master. He owned people. Yes, he believed it was allowed by the Bible, and yes if Virginia enacted an emancipation law he would have cheerfully complied, seeing it as his duty. But he owned people. What does it take for a person to own another person? Can someone who sees another as an equal own that other person? Can a person genuinely and seriously championing the rights of a group of people own some of those people? These are fundamental questions one has to confront after we read about the Sunday School for slaves and after we read about slaves who asked him to buy them so they would be treated better.

    Ultimately we have to face up to the reality that Jackson saw blacks as a lower form of humanity. I can treat my cats kindly, but that doesn’t mean I’m working for equal rights for cats in any way.

    Regards,
    Cash

  • John Maass Sep 27, 2007

    Cash: If TJJ “saw it as his Christian duty to teach them to read the Bible,” that is remarkable in that it was illegal to teach slaves to read in Virginia at that time. I have always read that Jackson taught the classes but never heard that he actually taught the slaves to read.
    Regards,
    JM

  • Cash Sep 27, 2007

    John,

    Yes, Jackson did indeed teach the slaves to read the Bible in defiance of Virginia law. He very logically explained his actions to his neighbors by showing that if their duty was to bring the Gospel to the slaves, that required them to equip the slaves to read and understand the Gospel on their own. Prof. Robertson goes into this in his biography of Jackson.

    Regards,
    Cash

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