Stance of Stonewall Jackson statue stirs a fuss

Wednesday July 27, 2011

by Paul Fallon
Daily Mail Staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Howard Swint stirred a hornet’s nest with opinion pieces published in local newspapers calling for the statue of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson on the Capitol grounds to be removed.

Swint, an associate broker of commercial real estate by trade, said he had been thinking about why the statue should be removed for many years.

He believes statues of Confederate soldiers should either be removed or have a sign depicting the horrors of slavery placed next to them. He also believes having memorials to Confederates around West Virginia goes against the premises of the state’s creation.

"It just doesn’t keep with the spirit of West Virginia’s birth and its role in the Civil War," said Swint, 53, of Charleston.

Jackson was born in Clarksburg, in what was then Virginia, in 1824. His father died of typhoid fever when Jackson was 2. Jackson’s mother then died of complications during childbirth a few years later.

Jackson and his sister were sent to live with their uncle, Cummins Jackson, who owned a grist mill in Jackson’s Mill near Weston.

He took a teaching position at Virginia Military Institute and in 1859 was asked to lead a contingent of VMI cadets to Charles Town to provide military support for the hanging of John Brown.

As war broke out, Jackson went on to become one of the Confederacy’s best-known generals after Robert E. Lee.

Jackson gained his ‘Stonewall’ nickname at the First Battle of Bull Run when, as Confederate lines started to crumble, Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!"

Confederate pickets accidentally shot Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorville on May 2, 1863. He survived the initial wound, although he had to have his arm amputated, but then he died of complications of pneumonia eight days later.

Jackson has remained a legendary, though controversial, figure.

West Virginia was born of the Civil War by those who wanted to separate from Virginia and its aristocratic, pro-slavery ways, Swint said. Therefore, to him it makes little sense to have memorials to those who fought for the opposite side.

Swint’s views were molded back in the early 1970s. The Charleston native had a friend — a black teen from South Hills — who was denied service at a restaurant in Myrtle Beach. Swint was 13 years old when this occurred and it stuck with him over the years.

"From that point forward I saw things differently," he said.

He believes this type of behavior is a legacy of the antebellum South.

Swint cannot pinpoint the exact moment when he began thinking that the Jackson memorial on the Capitol grounds should be removed. Swint spent a lot of time on the Capitol grounds as an advisor to three different governors.

He was a member of the state’s Economic Development Office for Govs. Jay Rockefeller, Arch Moore and Gaston Caperton.

"And I lived on the East End in the early 1980s, so I spent a lot of leisure time at the Capitol," Swint said.

He decided to put his viewpoint in writing because the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War had begun and West Virginia is getting in on the celebration.

"I just thought it was time for that opinion piece," he said.

Swint said although he doesn’t like seeing places named after Confederate generals — like Stonewall Jackson Middle School — he understands the tradition of the name.

"But I would rather see Stonewall Jackson named Leon Sullivan Middle School," he said.

It is the statues that cause him the most grief.       

Not everyone agrees with Swint. The Daily Mail received several letters to the editor from people who read Swint’s articles. 

Harry Bruner Jr. of Charleston said in a letter that he believes the Jackson memorial on the Capitol grounds should be left where it is. Bruner, 62, ran as a Republican for U.S. Senate in the race to fill Robert Byrd’s unexpired seat in 2010.

He said Jackson represented timeless virtues such as a "prodigious work ethic, discipline, doggedness and perseverance honored in Clarksburg and Jackson’s Mill."

"Despite Jackson’s politics, his place in history is as secure as his statue is appropriate on the state Capitol grounds," Bruner wrote.

Nathan Dollison of St. Albans wrote that he was saddened by Swint’s attempts to portray Jackson in a one-sided view.

"He twists the good things about Jackson, such as his Sunday school for slaves, into evil ones," Dollison wrote.

Swint believes Jackson has been portrayed in a light that is not quite accurate. He said Jackson was a racist who taught a Sunday school for slaves to "put the strong hand of the Gospel under the ignorant African race."

Swint said he was bombarded with e-mails and calls after his articles were published in May and June. Church members also commented on his opinions.

Swint said reaction to his columns was about even between the people who supported his viewpoint and those who opposed it. He said the overwhelming majority of those who did not agree were civil when they spoke to him.  

© Copyright 2011 Charleston Daily Mail

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