Lee-Jackson Day: Who Is It Good For?

lee-stonewall-jackson-graveI’ve enjoyed reading the comments attached to my last post, which featured Governor Terry McAullife’s first Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation. As readers have noted it contains a couple questionable references, but what I find interesting is just how hollow it sounds. What could you possibly learn about these two men from reading this proclamation if you had no prior knowledge? I would say, next to nothing and yet this is a state holiday.

As it stands the proclamation avoids anything that smacks of controversy. It’s an innocent reminder of a time long past when there was something at stake for a large number of white Virginians in acknowledging the two Confederate warriors and, more importantly, the Lost Cause for which they fought. For most Virginians today who are impacted by the holiday it is little more than a day off from work. With each generation our distance from the war itself grows and the emotional cords fewer. We are likely seeing the last hurrah from a generation that grew up or came of age during the Civil War centennial.

Looking ahead fifty years, I would be very surprised if Virginia and other Southern states continue to acknowledge Lee-Jackson Day.

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Gov. Terry McAullife’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation

The new Virginia governor’s Lee-Jackson Day Proclamation is quite telling for both its brevity and especially for what it leaves out. Lee and Jackson are respectively remembered for their contributions to education in the Commonwealth and for their roles as military leaders, but no mention is made of the nation who benefited from that battlefield prowess.

WHEREAS, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson were native Virginians, having served our great nation and Commonwealth as educators, leaders, and military strategists; and

WHEREAS, Lee served in the United States Army for more than three decades until he left his position to serve as Commander in Chief of Virginia’s military forces and as Commander of the Army of northern Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Jackson taught philosophy and military tactics as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington for nearly a decade before serving briefly in the United States Army and later joining the Confederate Army to fight for his native Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Lee dedicated his life after the Civil War to reforming higher education in the South by serving as President of Washington College, now Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, where he helped to greatly increase the school’s funding and expanding the curriculum to create an atmosphere most conductive to learning for young men of both Southern and Northern heritage; and

WHEREAS, Jackson’s leadership and bravery enabled him to rally his troops to several improbable victories against opposition forces much larger than his own, and Jackson’s inspired “Stonewall Brigade” fought alongside General Lee’s troops toward another victory even after their leader was fatally wounded on the second day of the Battle of Chancellorsville; and

WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize Generals Lee and Jackson as two of our nation’s most notable military strategists, as beloved leaders among their troops, as pioneers in the field of higher education and as faithful and dedicated Virginians;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, do hereby recognize January 17, 2014; as LEE-JACKSON DAY in the COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA and call this observance to attention for all our citizens.

Perhaps this proclamation falls in line with previous years, but it seems to me to be an exercise in saying as little about the cause for which they fought as possible.

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The Black Confederate Trend

A couple of years ago I tried to track the frequency of references to “black Confederates” on the Internet by using Google’s Ngram application. Unfortunately, it is no longer available, but I did recently come across Google’s Trend application, which functions along the same lines. It also includes more recent data. Back in September I discussed the possibility that this narrative has finally peaked.

The spike before 2010 corresponds to the Washington Post report on a Virginia textbook that included a reference to thousands of blacks fighting with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. You will also notice a spike in the middle of 2011, which is when History Detectives aired its segment debunking the story of Silas Chandler.

Click here on how to interpret Google’s Trend Graphs.

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“Become an Independent Scholar and Do What You Love” – Keith Harris

Earlier today my friend, Keith Harris, published his manifesto encouraging people in his position to “reject the academic job market.”

Here is my advice: become an independent scholar and do what you love.

Having known Keith for a number of years I am not surprised by what I read. It’s straight and to the point. Without forming much of an opinion one way or the other I re-tweeted the post. Keith thanked me and suggested that I share my thoughts on the blog. At first I resisted, but taking a break from student comment writing is just what the doctor ordered, so here it goes. [click to continue…]

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“Our Focus is Educating People Today”

Bonus: Seems to me the Virginia Flaggers should be protesting the Virginia Military Institute over this decision. Let’s see if they do anything.

Everett-B-D-Julio_XX_The-Last-Meeting-Of-Lee-And-Jackson-1864_XX_Museum-Of-The-Confederacy-Richmond-VirginiaTomorrow is the annual gathering in Lexington, Virginia to mark Lee-Jackson Day, but you don’t get the sense that the diehards are very excited. Yes, the Virginia Flaggers will be there protesting a ban on their beloved flag on city light posts by marching in the streets with their Confederate flags. This remains one of the most ludicrous heritage protests of recent years as you are still permitted to wave as many flags in Lexington’s public places as your heart desires. You just can’t do so on public light poles.

You don’t get the sense from Brandon Dorsey, who organized the event, that he expects a large crowd. [click to continue…]

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