How many of you have ever heard of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund of Alabama? The 3-member panel created by Alabama lawmakers in 1955 and headed by state archives officials offers $1,000 scholarships to college-bound students for essays on the Confederate general. Apparently they have awarded 53 interest-free scholarships since 1989. What kind of essay are we talking about here?
There is hereby created and established the Alabama Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund, which fund is to be composed of the money hereinafter appropriated in this chapter, together with any accruals from the income from the fund or repayments thereto. The purpose of this fund is to memorialize that great American and Confederate general, “Stonewall” Jackson, through a program of education initiated by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Incorporated, including both essay contests and scholarships. The benefits of this fund shall accrue only to Alabamians.
Mississippi also enacted a similar program before it was “abolished” in 1990:
(1) There is hereby created the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board, which shall have as its purpose the memorializing of that great American and Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson, through a program of education initiated by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc. The Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board shall be governed by a board of trustees, who shall serve without compensation. The board of
trustees shall be composed of three (3) members, the Mississippi State Superintendent of Public Education, the Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the President of Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc. The board of trustees shall be vested with the power to administer this section in its entirety and to establish the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund.
(2) From and after March 13, 1990, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Board shall be abolished by operation of law, and any monies appropriated or donated to or deposited in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund shall be received, invested and administered by the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as it deems advisable in line with sound business procedure. The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History may spend the interest derived from the Mississippi Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund to support the programs and activities of the Junior Historical Society of Mississippi and thereby promote the study of Mississippi history. No part of the principal of such fund shall be disbursed for any purpose, and all grants to the Junior Historical Society shall be taken from the interest derived from investments only.
It’s pretty clear as to the types of articles that must be written to qualify for a Jackson loan. There seems to be little room for any kind of critical analysis of some aspect of Jackson’s life. I would love to know how many black students have chosen to submit essays on this topic. So, why is this in the news? Well, you guessed it, some lawmakers in Alabama want to end the program. The arguments both for ending and continuing the program are pretty straightforward and follow the arguments related to just about every controversy related to our public memory of the Civil War.
What I find interesting, and which is not referenced at all, is the fact that Alabama’s program was started in 1955. The landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education had been decided just months earlier. To what extent was this carried out in response to a perceived threat to a central pillar of southern life by the federal government?
There would be no issue if this were a private endowment, but this program is state funded and lawmakers have the right and responsibility to challenge appropriations. As for my own view of this issue it seems to be much to do about nothing. I lived and taught in Alabama for two years so I am well aware of the state of public education there. If it takes a goofy 1,500-word essay to earn a $1,000 scholarship for college than so be it. Black students can write about what Jackson teaches us about being a friendly slaveowner.