Dear Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and members of the
Monument Avenue Commission,
We are native Richmonders and also the great-great-grandsons of
Stonewall Jackson. As two of the closest living relatives to
Stonewall, we are writing today to ask for the removal of his
statue, as well as the removal of all Confederate statues from
Monument Avenue. They are overt symbols of racism and white
supremacy, and the time is long overdue for them to depart from
public display. Overnight, Baltimore has seen fit to take this
action. Richmond should, too.
In making this request, we wish to express our respect and
admiration for Mayor Stoney’s leadership while also strongly
disagreeing with his claim
that “removal of symbols does [nothing] for telling the actual
truth [nor] changes the state and culture of racism in this
country today.” In our view, the removal of the Jackson statue
and others will necessarily further difficult conversations
about racial justice. It will begin to tell the truth of us all
coming to our senses.
Last weekend, Charlottesville showed us unequivocally that
Confederate statues offer pre-existing iconography for racists.
The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were
there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy. To
them, the Robert E. Lee statue is a clear symbol of their
hateful ideology. The Confederate statues on Monument Avenue
are, too—especially Jackson, who faces north, supposedly as if
to continue the fight.
We are writing to say that we understand justice very
differently from our grandfather’s grandfather, and we wish to
make it clear his statue does not represent us.
Through our upbringing and education, we have learned much
about Stonewall Jackson. We have learned about his reluctance
to fight and his teaching of Sunday School to
enslaved peoples in Lexington, Virginia, a potentially criminal
activity at the time. We have learned how thoughtful and loving
he was toward his family. But we cannot ignore his decision to
own slaves, his decision to go to war for the Confederacy, and,
ultimately, the fact that he was a white man fighting on the
side of white supremacy.
While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are
ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family
and friends suffer. We are ashamed of the monument.
In fact, instead of lauding Jackson’s violence, we choose to
celebrate Stonewall’s sister—our great-great-grandaunt—Laura
Jackson Arnold. As an adult Laura became a staunch Unionist and
abolitionist. Though she and Stonewall were incredibly close
through childhood, she never spoke to Stonewall after his
decision to support the Confederacy. We choose to stand on the
right side of history with Laura Jackson Arnold.
Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never
intended as benign symbols. Rather, they were the clearly
articulated artwork of white supremacy. Among many examples, we
can see this plainly if we look at the dedication of a
Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina, in
which a speaker proclaimed that the Confederate soldier “saved
the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.”
Disturbingly, he went on to recount a tale of performing the
“pleasing duty” of “horse whipping” a black woman in front of
federal soldiers. All over the South, this grotesque message is
conveyed by similar monuments. As importantly, this message is
clear to today’s avowed white supremacists.
There is also historical evidence that the statues on
Monument Avenue were rejected by black Richmonders at the
time of their construction. In the 1870s, John Mitchell, a
black city councilman, called the monuments a tribute to
“blood and treason” and voiced strong opposition to the use
of public funds for building them. Speaking about the Lee
Memorial, he vowed that there would come a time when African
Americans would “be there to take it down.”
Ongoing racial disparities in incarceration, educational
attainment, police brutality, hiring practices, access to
health care, and, perhaps most starkly, wealth, make it clear
that these monuments do not stand somehow outside of history.
Racism and white supremacy, which undoubtedly continue today,
are neither natural nor inevitable. Rather, they were created
in order to justify the unjustifiable, in particular slavery.
One thing that bonds our extended family, besides our
common ancestor, is that many have worked, often as clergy
and as educators, for justice in their communities. While
we do not purport to speak for all of Stonewall’s kin, our
sense of justice leads us to believe that removing the
Stonewall statue and other monuments should be part of a
larger project of actively mending the racial disparities
that hundreds of years of white supremacy have wrought. We
hope other descendants of Confederate generals will stand
As cities all over the South are realizing now, we are not
in need of added context. We are in need of a new
context—one in which the statues have been taken down.
William Jackson Christian
Warren Edmund Christian
Great-great-grandsons of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall”
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