The names of Albert Gallatin Jenkins and Stonewall Jackson offend many people in West Virginia. They want these names removed from places of honor.
So far they have not succeeded. Jenkins Hall at Marshall University still bears the general’s name. The Stonewall Jackson statue still stands at one corner of the Capitol grounds in Charleston.
The Jackson statue was erected on the grounds of the old Capitol in downtown Charleston in 1910. It was moved to its current spot on the southwest corner of the Capitol Complex in 1926 while the present Capitol was under construction. At least one critic of the statue has said the statue is in its current location because that spot was closest to the Confederate capital of Richmond.
The placement of the statue became controversial again on June 7, when about a hundred people gathered to protest the statue’s continued presence at the Capitol. It was similar to sentiments in other parts of the nation where many people see statues honoring the Confederacy as monuments to a racist society.
Unlike in some larger cities, though, the point of the June 7 protest in Charleston was not to bring down the statue by force but to urge state officials to consider finding another place for the statue.
Likewise, in 2018 and 2019 the Marshall University Board of Governors faced the question of whether Jenkins Hall should be renamed. Jenkins, too, was a Confederate general. He had a plantation in the Greenbottom area in which he had slaves. Jenkins’ house is being restored as a historic site.
Students at Marshall asked the Board of Governors to rename Jenkins Hall. The board formed a committee, gathered information and ultimately decided to keep the building’s name as is.
Things may have gotten rowdy in Charleston last week, but they did not turn violent. Likewise, a significant number of people in the Marshall community made their feelings about Jenkins Hall known, but they did not resort to vandalism to make their point.
In short, people in both communities respected the rule of law instead of resorting to mob rule.
That is how it should be done. Using violence would set back the cause of making change, as people on the other side would be forced to dig in their heels and resist further.
The question of how and whether to remember the leaders of the Confederate cause will remain with us for years. It’s not going away. Too many people want the names of prominent Confederate generals and politicians removed from their sight, while many others want them to remain lest history be erased as has happened in the Middle East.
So far West Virginians have managed to keep this a peaceful process. That’s good, and it’s a tribute to the way we do things.
Much of the public probably lands between the two extremes. It’s probably accurate to say most West Virginians aren’t dedicated to whether the Stonewall Jackson statue stays put or whether Jenkins Hall retains its name.
It’s not an easy question, and it’s not going away. The generation now graduating from high school or college will likely have different attitudes toward the matter than its grandparents have. Time is on their side.
Let’s keep the process open, accessible and peaceful. Violence won’t help anything.