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Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend Hardcover – September 1, 2006
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"It is inspiring . . . Jackson's faith led him to show kindness to those around him, including the slaves." -- Steven E. Woodworth, Ph.D., author - While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers
"a skillful interweaving by Williams of . . . research with. . . inspirational language . . . the reader barely notices the actual history lesson taking place." -- Human Events
"Exhaustively researched, teeming with useful nuggets, and written with an undertone of faith that Jackson himself would have admired, this study clears the air of a lot of myth-accidental and otherwise. The narrative surprises and informs, memorializes and inspires, all at the same time." -- Professor James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor in History Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and author of "Stonewall Jackson - The Man, The Soldier, The Legend"
About the Author
RICHARD G. WILLIAMS JR. is a well-published author and speaker on subjects related to the Civil War. A regular contributor to the Washington Times' Civil War column, Williams also frequently contributes articles about the War Between the States to newspapers and history and homeschooling magazines. The descendant of three Confederate soldiers and a twenty-six year veteran Sunday-school teacher, he has lectured at Liberty Universtiy's annual Civil War Seminar and is the author of The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen. Williams is active in a number of historical preservationist organizations and lives in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
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The author details the incredible cruelty associated with slavery and the unjust nature of it. Slavery is condemned very forcefully. However, since this is a review/summary of the book it is necessary to be brief. So we will use a quote from Thomas Jefferson:
We have the wolf (the evil of slavery) by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let go. Justice is on one scale, and self preservation on the other.
Much of slave owners' capital was in slaves. Letting go would mean economic disaster. Reason and love of justice clearly say that slavery is wrong.
This in a nut shell sums up the essential dilemma which confronted slave owners.
The other aspect is that slavery was an American problem, not just a flaw in Southern character. Virginia repeatedly attempted to outlaw slave importation before the Revolutionary War. However, these laws were overturned by the British King. Why? Northern shipping and economy heavily relied on the slave trade. In fact the first colony to legalize the slave trade was Massachusetts in 1641. The first state to outlaw the slave trade was Virginia in 1778.
Given time, the slavery problem would have been handled without a war which was so destructive. But that was not to be.
The author does not intend this as a game to see who was wrong first or last. It simply makes the point that slavery was wrong and both North and South had a hand in it.
In fact not just North and South but simple logic and evidence indicate that leaders in Africa were eager to deal in the slave trade as they saw a profit in it.
The idea of the book is not to lay blame but simply to set out the complexity of the whole tragedy.
Much time is spent in detailing the deep religious feelings among slaves and freed blacks in the South before the war. But who taught these people about religion? Christianity was not the religion of their homeland.
Christianity required that all people have an opportunity to share in God's love. So it began that slave owners felt an obligation to teach the Christian religion to slaves. The author seems intent on revealing the evil of slavery and the good which Christianity offered.
So we have the stark contradiction that slavery is an evil, yet slave owners taught slaves a religion which tells the story of the Hebrew escape from slavery in Egypt. These two opposites existed side by side.
Thomas J. Jackson enters the picture. He was orphaned very young and raised by his Uncle Cummins Edward Jackson. His uncle (who had no interest in religion) owned slaves and it appears that it was his slaves who introduced young Jackson to Christianity.
When T.J. Jackson moved to Lexington, Virginia to teach at VMI, he joined a church. He soon met people interested in teaching slaves about the Bible. He took up the idea and began his own Bible classes for slaves. He went about to the houses of slave owners and asked permission to teach their slaves about the Bible. They agreed. T. Jackson made it clear to the slaves, as he went about signing them up for class, that they were to agree to come every week on time and that they must do so of their own free will. A large number signed up.
Mr. Jackson was not the only one to run a Sunday-school for slaves.
Class size grew. It is clear from the evidence which survives that he taught his pupils how to read. Two lawyers once challenged him in the street that he was breaking a Virginia law which forbade teaching slaves how to read. T. Jackson would have none of it and persisted in his classes. No lawsuit ever came up.
T. Jackson had a habit that whenever he met one of his students in the street he always greeted them. He was known as a stickler but kind at heart and was greatly admired by his students.
When called to serve in the Confederate Army, T. Jackson made provisions for the upkeep of the school. Once after the battle of First Manassas, people at the post office at Lexington, Virginia waited eagerly for news of the result. A pastor friend of T. Jackson was handed a letter from the General. His friend announced to all there that they would soon know the facts of the battle. General Jackson's note read:
My Dear Pastor,
In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day's service, I remembered that I had failed to send you my contribution for our colored Sunday-school. Enclosed you will find my check for that object....
This and numerous other notes and incidents indicate that the school meant a great deal to Mr. Jackson.
The many graduates of the school and descendants became ministers, doctors, educators and leaders.
Mr. Jackson accepted slavery but did not approve. In this situation he felt, because of his Christian beliefs, that he owed these slaves and Blacks an opportunity to learn of the value in the Bible.
People owned slaves. The religion of these owners believed that love of God should be denied to no one. These people, kept in bondage, were given a religion which freed them of sin at the hands of those who sinned against humanity by enslaving people.
Is this a contradiction? Yep, on a major scale. But as I read this book a quote from a Roman author I admire kept coming to me:
"Servus est." Sed fortasse liber animo. "Servus est." Hoc illi nocebit? Ostende quis non sit. Alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes timori. (Seneca.)
"He is a slave." But perhaps he is free in the mind. "But he is a slave." Will this harm him? Show me who is not a slave. One is a slave to lust, another is a slave to greed, another is a slave to ambition, all are a slave to fear.
I always shared this with my students each year. I did not use it to support slavery but to try and get my students to see that slavery is not so simple and can work for and against the master.
The author makes the point that Christianity helped to create a common bond between Black people and White people. Many would disagree with this today but perhaps he has a point.
But it must mean something that Mr. Jackson who owned slaves felt obligated to teach slaves how to read because of his religious beliefs.
When the statue for General Jackson was put up in the cemetery where he is now buried, the first contribution came from Lexington's Baptist Church for negroes. This church was established by a member of Mr. Jackson's Sunday-school.
The main thrust of the book seems to be that love of fellow man despite differences and contradictions of circumstances has been challenged in modern times by a love of hate for anything different.
The Obstinate Classicist
There was Joe Lightburn, a boyhood friend, who shared with Jackson his love for books and impressed upon him the idea that slavery was wrong and that blacks should be taught to read and learn the Bible. There was "Uncle Robinson," a trusted black servant, who took good care of Jackson and his sister when they were youngsters, during the time their mother was ill and near death. Later, during Jackson's adult years at Lexington, there was John Lyle, the owner of a local bookstore, who loaned Jackson prayer books and guided him towards embracing Presbyterianism.
In Lexington, Jackson owned 3 slaves, which his second wife, Anna, received as a wedding present from her father. Jackson was kind and compassionate to these slaves, teaching them to read and requiring that they attend family worship services in his household. In 1855, while serving as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Jackson began teaching slaves and free blacks at a black Sunday-school class, even though such a practice was prohibited by the Virginia legislature. In doing so, he risked both criminal prosecution and public ridicule at a time when Nat Turner's revolt was still a fresh memory in the minds of Virginians.
According to Jackson's second wife, Anna, the South had resisted the North to protect its constitutional rights, and slavery was among those constitutional rights. She maintained that Jackson would never have fought for the sole object of perpetuating slavery; rather he preferred to see the slaves free. He accepted slavery, not as something that was desirable, but as something allowed by God in the Bible, and it was not his business to question or determine God's purpose. She stated that her husband treated his own slaves with the greatest kindness, and he was never more happy than when he taught black children in his Sunday-school. Author Richard G. Williams, Jr. stressed the importance of resisting the temptation to judge Jackson, a 19th century man, by 21st century standards. To do so, he felt, would be unjust and only lead to false conclusions.
I learned a lot about the Mighty Stonewall reading this fine book by Mr. Williams. I was particularly fond of Stonewall's deathbed quote, which Mr. Williams interspersed throughout the book: "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees."
In addition to this book, there is a great DVD entitled, "Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story," narrated by James I. Robertson, author Richard G. Williams Jr., and various other historians. The DVD seemed to have been based on Williams' book and, like the book, was a real treat.