Lawmakers in Alabama who wish to extend the life of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Fund are running into opposition from black legislators who plan to introduce a bill to kill the program.  Yes, the program was started in 1955 in response to Brown v. Board of Education, but why would any responsible legislator stand in the way of a program that helps its residents pay for a college education?  Rather than make a very public stand using the tired arguments that Jackson was a slaveowner and therefore not worthy of any recognition at all, work to make the scholarship program more meaningful.  Ensure that the committee, which judges the essays, is made up of qualified readers who approach the memory of the Civil War from different perspectives.  You could have a couple college history professors as well as a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the NAACP, and state legislators on it.  Challenge your students to tackle essay topics that ask them to address the tough questions of slavery as well as other issues.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be a forum for praising or impugning anything about the Civil War. 

How about just trying to understand it better?

About Kevin Levin

8 comments add yours

  1. Kevin:

    No one has asked me–I’m only this year’s president of the Alabama Historical Association–but having attended college in part on small scholarships like this one, I think killing the program would be sad. To be sure, there is context. Not only was the scholarship created in the moment of massive resistance, but it comes right on the heels of last year’s unpleasant, divisive debate over a slavery apology bill. There frankly is much election year symbolism and posturing involved here, on both sides of the aisle.

    But why hurt students? Take a look at the state’s education budget this year for a clue. Alabama has the lowest property taxes in the nation (double them and they’d still be the lowest), so state government runs on sales taxes in constant cycles of boom and bust. We’ve reached “bust.” At Auburn, we had to raise tuition 12 percent to make up the shortfall after the legislature went into gridlock and an extra session over the question of whom to slash more, K-12 or the colleges. Using students as pawns is hardly a new thing in Montgomery.

    I finally should note that the current committee as it exists already is pretty close to your proposed ideal. I don’t know the other members, but State Archivist Ed Bridges is the most impressive public historian I have ever met. Debbie Pendleteon, who supervises the scholarship, is likewise a good scholar and asset to the state. I have every confidence in their historical knowledge and discretion.

    Ken

  2. Kevin,

    This scholarship could be a great opportunity to explore and understand more important social issues of the Civil War. I think there is value in coming to grips with how a man like Jackson, who fought, killed, and died for the perpetuation of slavery – practically, if some might argue not consciously – could also exhibit behavior that might suggest he did not personally approve of it. That is, place him and his contemporaries along a spectrum rather than at either end.

  3. I think it’s sad that the bigger danger is the article cites the failure of the scholarship program through “disuse.” True, $1,000 doesn’t go a long way in today’s education economy, but every dollar helps. Also, community college students need as much help as do university students and a grand does go further there. I know, because I started college at a community institution.

    Additionally, according to the article, Debbie Pendleton, Alabama’s assistant director of state archives, the committee does not ask race, but “at least one past winner planned to attend a traditionally black college.” Publicly open the competition to everyone. I believe the entire history community would benefit from your proposal by learning how college-bound youth of all races and ethnicities, view topics we, as historians and educators, enjoy discussing and reading about. Publish the winner’s essay, if it’s worthy of publication.

    While I am a teacher in Texas, if a similar program were offered here (I am not aware of a scholarship program in John Bell Hood’s memory, but I could be overlooking something!), I, as a history educator, would be interested in how students have assimilated the information taught in the history classroom, as well as how well we have taught basic research and writing skills.

    Also, Mr. Noe, I had the opportunity to visit with a teacher from Scottsboro, AL, earlier this summer. I just thought we had educational funding problems in Texas, until I talked with him and read your post.

  4. My own daughter won $2000 from the Lee-Jackson foundation’s scholarship fund here in Virginia a couple of years ago and I can assure you $2000 was very meaningful to her. $1000 can make a big difference, especially to some kid struggling at the community/junior college level.

  5. Having taught history in Alabama’s public schools for 10 years now, I’ve never heard of the Jackson scholarship. (for at least 3 years I’ve even taught a Gilder Lehrman funded Civil War class) I would like for my students to participate if it’s feasible. Not only might they have an opportunity to win $1000 much needed dollars, but it would also give me an opportunity to measure their critical analysis of what Stonewall means to them. I would really like to see examples of the winning essays. Do those exist anywhere that is accessible to the public?

    Thanks for the heads up,

  6. Richard, — Good luck with your projects.

    Ken, — Thanks for filling in some of the details. As you know I taught for two years in Alabama so I am well award of the state’s neglect of public education.

    Harry, — You read my mind.

    Greg, — Ditto!

    Chris, — I would suggest you contact the individuals mentioned in Ken’s comment above. With your guidance your students would definitely come up with some interesting essays.

  7. I’m not sure that Jackson was a slave owner. He was not a rich man. I am sure that he did violate the then-prevailing law against teaching slaves to read because he believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible. He taught black children in Sunday School and he sometimes, during the war, attended services at African American churches. I made use of these facts, in passing, in my novel “The Shenandoah Spy”. When the war began, Jackson was an employee of the State of Virginia and was teaching at VMI. He was reassigned to the state army and that was incorporated into the larger Confederate force. Jackson was defending his country as far as he was concerned — a position taken by over 300 officers in the US Army, who resigned and returned to their native states’ military. None of that had much to do with the slave question. Abolishing the scholarship doesn’t make much sense even as a political protest.

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