While I applaud high school senior Jen Veldhuyzen of Colonial Forge High School for taking the initiative to write for her local newspaper I have to wonder who is teaching her and where she is getting her information. Jen’s thesis: Martin Luther King would not mind sharing a holiday with Lee and Jackson. Why? Because all three strove to confront racism in their own times:
Lee did not merely speak
against racism, though–he released all his slaves 10 years before the
war. Most of them stayed on at his plantation, and one even became his
cook during the war.
Lee taught his family to appreciate people of other colors–like
King’s activists years later, Lee’s daughter was arrested for violating
Jim Crow laws in the South. According to the 1902 Cleveland Gazette,
she reportedly "persisted in occupying a car set apart for
Afro-Americans," and the mayor found her guilty of violating the law.
"Stonewall" Jackson did not speak much about slavery–he lived against it, instead.
Jackson did not understand what flaw of society placed people of
color in positions of servitude–nor did he care what society said. He
was known for being eccentric and forceful with his opinions, and he
lived them out.
Every Sunday, while in his hometown of Lexington, Jackson quietly
broke the law by teaching a class of black students to read and write.
After his death, when the Union Army occupied Lexington, citizens took
care to hide the Confederate flag formerly marking Jackson’s grave.
They were surprised later to find flowers, a note and a small
Confederate flag placed at his tombstone by a boy from one of his
Jackson would always be remembered by his students, not as a racist
or a military man, but as a strict champion of black literacy. I do not
believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would have objections to sharing a
weekend with a man who supported African-American education.
Well, I don’t know if King would mind sharing a day with two slave owners who fought a war in the name of a nation whose primary goal was the protection of slavery. I suspect that King might have a short list of names from the war and Reconstruction that he would have preferred. Perhaps Frederick Douglass, David Walker, Hiram Revels, Blanche K. Bruce and later, W.E.B. Dubois. Jen is clearly picking up on a trend that is growing louder, which seeks to address and often remove issues of race and slavery by concluding that white Southerner slaveholders/Confederates were actually the best "friends" of black Americans. The comparison with Lee and Jackson is instructive on another level as it assumes that King would have anything at all to say about their civil rights records. I suspect that he would look at you askance and move on in the face of such a suggestion. Lee’s postwar record as president of Washington College and his handling of racial tensions in Lexington is available to anyone who cares to consider history rather than fantasy. As for Jackson, someone needs to explain to me what teaching your own slaves to read has to do with civil rights at all.