Update: Here is video of State Senator Hanger’s tribute to Stonewall Jackson in Richmond. Notice that he doesn’t even get to Jackson until the 3 minute mark. My have times changed.
You don’t have to go too far back in time in Virginia history to find a political culture that was perfectly aligned with the memorialization of the Confederacy. Monuments, street names, holidays, public school textbooks all taught that Confederate leaders and their cause should be celebrated and propped up as a set of ideals that all citizens should strive to emulate.
Thankfully, that is no longer the case.
While the removal of monuments have received most of the mainstream media’s attention over the past few years, it is really the smaller acts of defiance that are responsible for the erosion of the celebration of the Lost Cause in public spaces over a longer period of time. Consider what happened in Virginia’s state Senate this past Friday when Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta began a speech in honor of Stonewall Jackson’s birthday.
As he began Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax – only the second elected black leader in Virginia – walked off the dais to take a seat on a bench. Later he told reporters:
It’s a personal decision for me. There are people in Virginia history that I think it’s appropriate to memorialize and remember in that way, and others that I would have a difference of opinion on.
Fairfax’s very presence in elected office is a an act of defiance against everything the Confederacy stood for and everything that Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were willing to give their lives to achieve: a slave holding republic based on white supremacy. With this small act, Fairfax managed to hijack the holiday through media coverage, which likely would have been absent without it.
Virginia still celebrates Lee-Jackson Day, but you will be hard pressed to find any public acknowledgment of the holiday. Elected officials still deliver addresses in Richmond, but this is likely a political calculation more than a reflection of any deep belief.
The most vocal Confederate apologist in Virginia right now is Corey Stewart, who failed in his first campaign for state office. He is from Minnesota.
This may have been a personal decision for Fairfax, but in that moment he spoke for decent people throughout Virginia and beyond, who no longer buy into the mythology surrounding the Confederacy.
We should celebrate the fact that Stonewall Jackson would roll over in his grave in response to Fairfax’s act of protest.