Still the “Champion of Enslaved Men and Women”

There is a new and extended trailer for the upcoming film Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story.  Check this new clip out if you didn’t think it possible for an even more absurd treatment of this very important historical figure.  This time historians James I. Robertson and Col. Keith Gibson offer commentary.  Robertson touches on the "trauma of [Jackson] being given away" at an early age which is no doubt true.  He concludes that "family became far more important than a normal person" and this shaped a more "tender-hearted person" which is "not shown in battle."  Again, I see nothing wrong with such a comment.  Unfortunately, this then serves as a lead-in to the absurd claim made by Richard Williams that Jackson "was the champion of enslaved men and women" and the "proclaimer of good news." 

First, someone please point out to me the places in Robertson’s book where Jackson is interpreted as some kind of champion of the very people he owned.  The editor of this trailer did a wonderful job of interpreting Jackson and slavery along traditionally paternalistic lines.  Jackson valued and yearned for family and this must be evidence that his ownership of slaves was benign.  Actually, not only was it benign, but we are being asked to celebrate Jackson’s ownership of slaves. 

I know some of you are wondering why I keep harping on this and related issues.  Well, let me just say that I am a teacher and I care about what is both taught in the classroom and distributed for viewing in the general public.  In the end this kind of film is dangerous.  It perpetuates the same stereotypes that one can find in movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind.  What makes this worse is that we are at a point where we know so much more about the "peculiar institution".  But even if we ignore the scholarship the idea that anyone will seriously consider the possibility of celebrating slave ownership is perverse in the extreme. 

Do we really have to ask Mr. Williams whether he would be willing under any circumstances to exchange places with one of Jackson’s slaves to make this point?  Of course, I have not seen this film nor do I have any interest in doing so.  I’ve seen enough! 

Update: One of my readers was kind enough to inform me that responses to this piece have been posted.  See here and here.  I applaud Williams for at least making an attempt to respond even though he does not address the point of this post which is the idea that we can characterize any slaveholder as a "champion" of the very people enslaved.  The other guy seems to be just a bit unstable.

10 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2007 @ 7:23

    Brooks, — You make an excellent point. I recognize that there are people out there with very strong personal attachments to dead people like Jackson, but as you know that has little to do with my interest in history. I have no personal connection to Jackson or the Civil War for that matter so my interests are decidedly more removed.

    What I have trouble understanding is why it is so difficult to acknowledge that I don’t hate Jackson, Lee, or anyone else for that matter from the Civil War. I don’t hate or love them; in fact, I don’t even know what it means to have an emotional connection with individuals that I’ve never met and who have been dead for some time. And I don’t really believe those who claim to be emotionally attached to such people. It is perhaps more accurate to suggest that they are emotionally attached to certain ideas of the past rather than the individuals in question.

  • Brooks Simpson Oct 20, 2007 @ 21:39

    Why do you hate Stonewall Jackson so much? 🙂

    Of course, I’d repeat what I’ve said before … that it’s a bad business to fall in love with dead people. I think you might understand the reaction your posts provoke in some quarters if you consider the way in which some people are attached to the people they study.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2007 @ 6:54

    Hi John, — I have not been over to Aubrecht’s blog since I responded to your last comment and I don’t plan on doing so. To be honest I have no idea what’s going on with this guy other than to say that perhaps he yearns for some kind of validation or acceptance. Whatever the case may be Aubrecht will not be allowed to comment on this site again. He seems to have absolutely no understanding of what civil discourse entails or the difference between a personal attack and a strong disagreement. Yes, a strange bird indeed.

  • John V. Oct 18, 2007 @ 6:48

    Kevin, — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it looks like Aubrecht is once again asking for forgiveness. Strange bird indeed.

    I should have pointed this out in my last comment, but I wanted you to know that I am a high school history teacher in Alabama. I’ve been reading your blog – along with two other colleagues in the department – for about a year. All of us enjoy reading it and we learn a great deal. I should also point out that all three of us were born and bred in the Deep South and we attended either the University of Alabama or University of Mississippi as history majors. Our teachers were all white men who were also born and bred in the South. We were never subjected to anything other than the best in scholarship and we were constantly pushed to challenge the ideas that were instilled in us at an early age.

    I only say this as a point of contrast to the kinds of comments that were voiced yesterday on Aubrecht’s blog and that have now been erased. They do not speak for me and I suspect for many other well-educated southerners. What I find really weird is that Aubrecht is not even from Virginia and yet his supporters celebrate him but insult you because you are from up north.

    Your comments about the way Jackson is being interpreted in this film is right on and anyone who has half a brain can see that. As a practicing Christian I don’t mind saying that you do God’s work!

  • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2007 @ 20:38

    Rob, — Hilarious!! Yep..I can just feel the Christian love oozing forth from Aubrecht and his readers.

  • Rob Wick Oct 17, 2007 @ 19:09

    As I said on Aubrecht’s site Kevin, nice to see the spirit of God in action.


  • Kevin Levn Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:40

    Hi John, — I haven’t had much time today, but I did look earlier in the afternoon. At that time there were 5 or 6 comments. They all bled into one another so I didn’t pay much attention.

    I don’t know what you think, but I find the response to be pretty bizarre. I mean these guys are upset with me because they believe that I’ve personally insulted someone and they go ahead and do just that. One guy accuses me of not being passionate about history and insults my teaching skills. Even more bizarre is an accusation that I’ve insulted James I. Robertson and Bob Krick. There is not one offensive mark in this post nor have I ever said anything insulting about him. In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve said just the opposite. As for Krick I’ve been critical, but if you can’t distinguish criticism from insult than there is no hope. Just the other day I posted a glowing review of his latest book which will be published in an upcoming journal. Another guy is threatening to call my employer or start a law suit. Now that is absolutely hilarious.

    Finally there is Aubrecht himself. I don’t mention him once in this post and yet this is his response. I assume that he is under no illusion regarding the tone and subject matter of this blog which is why I have no idea why he continues to stop by. I don’t have a link to his blog because I don’t read it. There is nothing personal in that other than we have very different interests. What is surprising however is that he spends hours on end on my site. What possible reason could he have for doing this?

    There is absolutely nothing that could be interpreted as an insult in this post. I was making a specific point about a comment made in a movie trailer. I strongly disagree with the characterization of Jackson as a “champion” of slaves. Interestingly not one person responded to that point.

  • John V. Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:21

    Kevin, — Interesting post. Have you seen the comments over at Aubrecht’s blog?

  • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:16

    Matt, — You are absolutely right. Visually, the preview is quite impressive. The sad thing is that Jackson is an absolutely fascinating individual who can tell us quite a bit about religion, race relations, and slavery; unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you will get any of that with comments such as the one I posted on. James I. Robertson’s book on Jackson is one of my favorites, but even he doesn’t go as far as to call Jackson a “champion” of his slaves.

  • Matt Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:04

    I think your point comparing this to “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With the Wind” is right on. Unfortunately, those films were made almost 92 and 68 years ago, respectively. Talk about being stuck in the past!

    Of course, many of the images in the trailer are truly beautiful. This film might well be worth watching if you mute it and fast forward through any talking heads.

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