An 1870 issue of Shenandoah Herald holds the firsthand experience of an African American cadet attending West Point - an institute where Thomas Jackson had received a military education almost three decades earlier: "I have been so harassed with... the insults and ill-treatment of these cadets that I could not write or do any thing else scarcely. I passed examination all right and got in... now these fellows appear to be trying their utmost to run me off... We went into camp yesterday, and not a moment has passed since then but some one of them has been cursing me. All night they were around my tent, cursing and swearing at me so that I did not sleep two hours all night. It is just the same thing at the table, and what I get to eat I must snatch for like a dog. I don't wish to resign if I can get along at all; but I don't think it will be best for me to stay and take all the abuses and the insults that are heaped upon me... One of the cadets refused to drill the squad because I was in it... After marching us out to the drill ground this morning he said to me, 'Stand off one side from the line, you d--d black son of a b--h. You are too near that white man. I want you to remember you are not on an equal footing with the white men in your class, and what you learn here you will have to pick up, for I won't teach you a d--d thing.' ... And I could say nothing at all, or I would have been locked up for disobedience of orders to 'superior officers.' ... If I complain to the commandment I must prove the charges or nothing can be done; and where am I to find one from so many to testify in my behalf? ... I have borne insult upon insult until I am completely worn out... I forgot to tell you that out of ninety-one appointees, five failed physically, forty-seven failed mentally, leaving thirty-nine admitted. They had prepared it to fix the colored candidates, but it proved most disastrous to the whites" (14 July 1870, Vol 50, No 45, p2).
The sentiments of this firsthand perspective are captured in Shenandoah County, too, through the treatment of its citizens. Newspapers and county minutes and documents clearly delineate terms such as "colored" or "negro" whenever referring to an African American for over a century after the Civil War. In most cases none of the white citizens are similarly denoted as "white" and, in the newspapers particularly, are nearly always named with an accompanying title of respect, such as Mr. or Mrs. - a courtesy generally removed from African American citizens. One exception to this in the supervisor's minutes is from 1868 when "a free white farmer and not an enemy, but an alien subject of Great Britain, appeared in court and on oath stated that he has resided in this county for ten years and inclined to continue to reside therein, this declaration is made to enable him to hold real estate" (1868:301).
Shenandoah County court cases for African Americans are nearly always recorded in minutes following the day's cases for white citizens in the century between the Civil War and Civil Rights. And, while lashing was not just used against African Americans for punishment in minor crimes, a district court case against an African American for allegedly stealing a bridle-bit clearly states the racist use of lashing in the court system: he "graciously submitted to the old-time punishment so familiar to that race - ten lashes with orders to return after the lapse of ten days and receive tenmore, which, of course, he will do" (Winchester News, Vol 13, No 29, 18 January 1878, p3). Another case noted in the Shenandoah Herald states: "A negro in Winchester, for stealing chickens, was sentenced to receive twenty lashes, to work in the chain gang for sixty days and to pay the cost of the prosecution." The editors continue this notice by calling out the African Americans in our very community: "We have several in this town who are waiting for an opportunity to exemplify their physical endurance under similar punishment" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol 55, No 20, 11 March 1875, p3). "In New Market, Shenandoah County, on the 25th... Martha Minor, colored, was arrested, tried, and ordered to receive 25 lashes for stealing some articles belonging to ... others" (Shenandoah Herald, Volume 56, Number 40, 3 August 1876 p3). Another judge declared that "negroes and whites are not equals under the laws of the United States; that either a white man is not the peer of a negro or a negro is not the peer of a white man, and the very law intended to abolish all the race distinctions is made the means of perpetuating them" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol 59, No 10, 11 December 1878, p2).
This inequality of justice is also present in the depiction of an inequality of character. Many of our community's leaders mocked and belittled an entire race of people at a time when they should have been focusing on providing quality education and compassion. While we've read about these similar situations in nearly every single letter before, I want to especially draw your attention to Week 32: Fear of 'Negro Equality' and Week 37: Prejudicial to our Race, which hold similar sentiments of indifference by our community and even hatred toward American citizens with African ancestry. Sometimes this shows up in Aesop's fable-styled witticisms. The Shenandoah Herald shares two examples: "We have three candidates all on the same side of the re-adjustment question... Their discussions are somewhat like the negro's dispute with his master. He said, 'Ole massa and me sputed about an hour.' What about? 'Why massa, he said squashes growed best in damp ground and I said so too.' " (Vol 58, No 45, 14 August 1878 , p2) and "A young negro boot-black observed a neighbor poring wisely over a newspaper, whereupon he addressed him thus: 'Julius, what are you looking at dat paper fer? You can't read.' 'Go away,' cried the other indignantly; 'guess I can read; I's big enough for dat.' 'Big enuff.' retorted the other scornfully, 'dat ain't nuffin. A cow's big enuff to catch mice, but she can't.' " (Vol 59, No 12, 25 December 1878, p1). And other times, this insinuates the ignorance, not of individuals, but of an entire race through events of the time. One example is related to the Census Bureau of 1900: "The Bureau has had considerable trouble, particularly in the South, among the negroes, in ascertaining how the farms were being worked. In many cases the negroes did not know whether they were paying a fixed money rent or a share of the crops" (Edinburg Sentinel and Valley Advertiser, Volume 7, Number 48, 13 September 1900, p2). Another example relates to reactions to a natural phenomena: "The eclipse was attended by fatal results... From all parts of Virginia come reports of negroes terrified by the strangeness and to them miraculous nature of the spectacle. In some localities prayer and praise meetings were held, and in others dumb, frantic terror led the more ignorant to throw down their tools and flee, they knew not whither" (Edinburg Sentinel and Valley Advertiser, Volume 7, Number 33, 31 May 1900, p2).
Another noted feature of various local issues of newspapers needs mentioning when considering our community's view of African Americans and that is related to the Ku Klux Klan. The editors of the April 16, 1868 issue of Shenandoah Herald write: "The whole country seems to be in great excitement. The press, all over the country, are discussing the same mysterious personage, or demon, as some suppose; and military commanders forbid, under penalty, the press from publishing anything in relation to the matter, and, on the other hand, le grand diable, or what ever it may be, hands in the mysterious manuscript with positive injunctions to publish. Negroes and carpet-bagmen whistle to keep up their courage... The old nursery storys and legendary lore... are all recalled by the wonderful feats and mysterious doings of the wonderful and mysterious Ku-klux. We have seen some very satisfactory and intelligent articles in some of our exchanges in regard to the object, &c., of this organization, and feel satisfied that, whether this mysterious personage has been seen or not, yet, we believe the Klan is preparing to march... The following effusion found on our table, from some poetic brother of the mystic circle, we insert, as requested, without comment" (Vol. 3, No. 25, p.3). A poem, entitled Night of Terror continues, including the lines "The Klan is marching; on their banner a skull; / The storm is brewing that never will lull," and is submitted by a member of the Valley Klan. According to the June through November 1871 issues of Shenandoah Herald, a Woodstock merchant was selling Ku Klux hats.
A resurgence of interest in the Ku Klux Klan appeared in local papers with the film, Birth of a Nation. During a showing in Richmond, Va, forty-two klan members were present for the film's final showing at Academy of Music. "There was a sudden silence throughout the theatre when, shortly before the beginning of the performance, the white-robed figures suddenly appeared... Then came a burst of applause. There followed the lowering of the lights and the beginning of the picture in which the most thrilling scenes depict the Ku Klux Klan in reconstruction days in the South coming to the rescue of the oppressed white people" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol. 105, No. 7, 17 February 1922, p.2). Two months later, the same paper reads: "A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan has been organized in Harrisonburg, according to a statement last night of a field representative of the Klan, who has been working in Harrisonburg since an address by Dr. J. H. Hawkins, of Norfolk here March 28, in the interests of the klan" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol. 105, No. 15, 14 April 1922, p.2). A year later, "while the Winchester Presbytery was holding its regular meeting... three members of the Ku Klux Klan, wearing the regulation white robes and hoods, entered the Presbyterian Church and walked deliberately from the Sunday school room to the auditorium, presented the local pastor with an envelope. They said nothing and departed as quietly as they entered. A press dispatch stated the Rev. was more than delighted with the contents of the beautifully written letters, because of the sentiment it expressed and also because the envelope contained $50 for his own personal use" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol. 106, No 16, 20 April 1923, p.2).
Closest to home is a listing in the local advertisements of the September 26, 1924 newspaper: "The Ku Klux Klan will hold an open meeting in the Court House on Tuesday Night, September 30th. The Public is cordially invited to be present and hear the principles of this organization outlined by prominent speakers. Before the meeting at the Court House, the Klan will hold a parade through the town, and will attempt to portray the working of the order. Watch for the banners" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol. 107, No. 39, p.3). Not even a year later, fields away from where the current southern campus schools will be built almost a quarter of a century later, the Valley Klan held a major gathering at Shenandoah Caverns on Sunday, June 14, 1925. "Not only will the Valley Klans take part in exercises, religious and secular, which are on the day's program, but it is anticipated that hundreds will attend from nearby states. At 11 o'clock in the morning there will be church services, conducted by one of the leading evangelists in the country, and it is the purpose to make this service both inspiring and helpful. The dinner will be served either picnic style or at the Caverns Hotel, visitors taking their choice. In the afternoon at two, an innovation in Klan ceremonials will be the special program hundreds of feet below the surface, in the Grotto of the Gods. At four, prominent lecturers will set forth the objects and purposes of the Klan. While held under the auspices of the Ku Klux Klan, the day is set apart as National Flag Day, and the invitation to take part in the exercises is extended to everybody. Several brass bands have been secured for the occasion and it promises to be a red-letter day in Valley Klan history" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol 108, No 24, 12 June 1925, p7).
The Ku Klux Klan was created by Confederate veterans at the close of the American Civil War and established as independent chapters across the southern US states. Their purpose was to continue the mission of the Confederacy in promoting white supremacy through the intimidation of African Americans, especially those aiming for political and local leadership. By 1871, the KKK was largely suppressed by the federal government, with a resurgence in 1915, due especially to the release of the silent film The Birth of a Nation. As of July 1925, the organizer of the Valley Ku Klux Klan had moved to Woodstock, Va, which the local newspaper noted as being "nearer the center of his work" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol 108, No 27, 3 July 1925, p.2). The Shenandoah Herald shares the 1925 Shenandoah County Fair information, which includes special days "on Tuesday, the opening day, when school children of the county will be admitted free, and Friday, the last day, when the Ku Klux Klan will play a conspicuous part in the program, with their own hand, addresses and other Klan ceremonies." The article concludes with the lines: "And remember it is YOUR COUNTY FAIR, and it begins next Tuesday, September 8" as well as a detailed program, including "Friday (Klan Day):
Ku Klux Program
4:00 p.m. - Speaking.
5:00 - Klan Kristening.
5:45 - Kitchen Band.
7:00 - Speaking.
7:45 - Joint band concert. K.K.K. Band of Ballston, Va., and K. of P. Band of Woodstock.
8:15 - Free acts.
8:40 - Red fire parade led by K.K.K. Band. K. of P. Band in center of parade.
9:00 - Naturalizations.
9:20 - Double program of fireworks. Association and K.K.K" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol 108, No 36, 4 September 1925, p.1).
As a follow-up to the county-wide exhibition, the September 18, 1925 issue includes the article, "Fair Success in All Ways: Closing Day and Night Without Precedent - Financial Success," in which the details of the evening are shared: "The great Shenandoah County Fair Association closed its 1925 exhibition Friday night in a blaze of glory. This is a trite expression but the whole heavens testified to the success of the big fair when a pyrotechnic display never equalled in the county turned the skies into a veritable blaze of gorgeous coloring made by spitting rockets and exploding bombs. Added to the set pieces was the electrical display put on by the Ku Klux Klan which had charge of much of the evening's entertainment. Crosses were lighted in the track enclosure and thousands looked on the mammoth parade, the christening exercises and initiation by the organization. Several addresses were made and the music was especially fine... The free acts, the best ever seen on the local grounds, delighted the record breaking crowd on Friday and Friday night, as compared with other last days of the fair... The gate receipts for the four days and nights exceeded those of any previous fair and the association, unlike many of the similar associations in Virginia is on firm financial ground. There will be a handsome surplus to apply to any indebtedness which might be outstanding" (Shenandoah Herald, Vol. 108, No 38, 18 September 1925, p.2).
Following the American Civil War, as we have already seen, Shenandoah County, Va, was not a welcoming place for African Americans. But it was actually more than unwelcoming. Shenandoah County, Va, by the 1920s was becoming the beating heart of the regional Ku Klux Klan - promoting a message of white pride that would all too soon stain the very foundations of our educational system. Knowing this history, however repulsive it might feel to remember it, is vital to understanding the reason for the name change. Frays of hatred against African Americans and minorities have been tucked into community decisions, gatherings, and public places for decades. Our community has an obligation to respectfully resign the names of oppression that still linger over our public places and make sure they no longer return to haunt us. Thomas Jefferson noticed the quagmire of slavery, which is also applicable to social prejudice against minority groups that have made their ways into civil laws, when he wrote: "Justice is on one scale and self-preservation in the other" (Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, 2016:151). It's time to leave the Confederacy in the history books, to let Confederate ancestors rest as peaceably as those ancestors that fought on the side of Great Britain during the American Revolution. Continuing to toy with the return of the names Ashby-Lee and/or Stonewall Jackson to our public schools is an act of injustice and blatant cruelty not just to our African American and minority neighbors, but to our entire community. Self-preservation and justice can go hand-in-hand. But not if self-preservation is only for the white majority.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
52 / Remembering & Moving On
51 / Integration & Teachers
50 / In Our Own Community
49 / S J H S
48 / Not One Positive Step
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day