Thursday, March 10, 2005

Stonewall Jackson's Black Sunday School Class

General George S. Patton III grew up in California, but in a family that came from Virginia and was quite Confederate. His Grandfather, George S. Patton I was a Confederate War Hero, and a student of Stonewall Jackson at VMI.

There is an interesting story about one of General Patton's earliest memories:

"As a child who got on his knees (another lifelong habit) to recite his nightly prayers for his mother, Patton thought two small portraits on the nearby wall were of Jesus and God [the Father]. Only later did he learn that the two bearded men were Stonewall Jackson and the man who was revered as the "God" of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee" (Patton: A Genius fo War, by Carlo D'Este p. 39f).

While General Patton initially held these men in a bit too high of esteem, this gives you some idea of the reverence with which Southerners preserved their memories.

Stonewall Jackson is of course remembered as one of the greatest generals America has ever produced, but most people would be suprised to learn that this Confederate General considered one of his highest callings to be a Sunday School teacher for a class of free and slave black children. What most people now would also be unaware of is that Sunday School was the only school many poor children had in those days, and it was here that they not only learned the Bible, but also how to read and write. It was against the law in Virginia at that time for a white man to teach blacks how to read, and though Jackson was one who normally was a stickler for rules, obedience, and respect for those in authority, he regularly violated this law to make his children literate and fervent Christians.

R.G. Williams, Jr. cites the following quote in his essay: Stonewall Jackson, Champion of Black Literacy:

"Soon after one of the great battles, a large crowd gathered one day at the post office in Lexington, anxiously awaiting the opening of the mail, that they might get the particulars concerning the great battle which they had heard had been fought. The venerable pastor of the Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. W.S. White, from whom I received the incident) was of the company, and soon had handed him a letter which he recognized as directed in Jackson's well known handwriting. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘we will have the news! Here is a letter from General Jackson himself.’ The crowd eagerly gathered around, but heard to their very great disappointment a letter which made not the most remote allusion to the battle or the war, but which enclosed a check for fifty dollars with which to buy books for his colored Sunday school, and was filled with inquiries after the interests of the school and the church. He had no time for inclination to write of the great victory and the imperishable laurels he was winning; but he found time to remember his noble work among God's poor, and to contribute further to the good of the Negro children whose true friend and benefactor he had always been. And he was accustomed to say that one of the very greatest privations to him which the war brought, was that he was taken away from his loved work in the colored Sunday school." ~ William Jones

Many black Churches in the area were started by Stonewall Jackson's students, and he is still remembered kindly in these communities.

In fact, when the Union occupied Lexington, Virginia (the site of Stonewall Jackson's grave) "the Confederate flag which floated over Jackson's grave was hauled down and concealed by some of the citizens. A lady who stole into the cemetery one morning while the Federal army was occupying the town, bearing fresh flowers with which to decorate the hero's grave, was surprised to find a miniature Confederate flag planted on the grave with a verse of a familiar hymn pinned to it. Upon inquiry she found that a colored boy, who had belonged to Jackson's Sunday school, had procured the flag, gotten some one to copy a stanza of a favorite hymn which Jackson had taught him, and had gone in the night to plant the flag on the grave of his loved teacher." (from the same article).

See: Stonewall Jackson, Champion of Black Literacy, for more.

See also:

Before Rosa Parks refused to go the back of the bus...

Uncle Tom was no "Uncle Tom"