I write to applaud the president of Marshall University and the Board of Governors for their recent action in removing the name of Albert Jenkins from the Education Building. It was not only long overdue but the right thing to do. Jenkins was a traitor to his country and a staunch proponent of slavery.
There will be opposition to this move. Many will charge that it is erasing part of our history. Others ask where does removing the monuments and symbols end? I offer the following comments on these issues in hope of beginning a dialogue in various community settings since it is a golden opportunity to reflect on what we should value.
The erection of Confederate symbols began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was carried out by the Daughters of the Confederacy during a time when Jim Crow laws were gaining in popularity. This was done in order to sanitize history — to remake the image of a way of life more acceptable to future generations and to honor the generals and soldiers as brave individuals who “fought the good cause.” Today we would call this a public relations make-over. An accurate rendering of history would present a different picture than is presented in Confederacy icons.
Additionally, it will be argued that once we begin renaming symbols, where does it end? Just recently an article appeared in the local paper that Washington, Jefferson and John Marshall owned slaves just as did Albert Jenkins, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. It is an accurate statement. I would suggest that the distinction is as follows: The former individuals used their talents to build a strong and united nation, whereas the latter used their energies to destroy that nation. To keep or tear down a memorial is always a matter of context and time, but I should hope that honoring white supremacy is not something we value. Unfortunately, many may think otherwise. That is why dialogue is so important.
We often fail to recognize that honoring is different from remembering. The board made an important distinction between the two. We will remember the Confederacy, but we need not honor it. The monuments, memorials and symbols we erect should honor our values as a nation, and they should stand as reminders to future generations of what we valued.