Virginia elected officials seek to glorify slavery legacies

Virginia elected officials seek to glorify slavery legacies

  • Published on
    May 24, 2024
  • Written by:
    Robert Boneberg
  • Category:
    Prison slavery
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Freedom United works to abolish all forms of modern slavery, wherever they may exist across the globe. While our focus is on the present and future, it’s essential to understand how historical contexts shape our efforts. Accordingly, we find it disheartening when elected officials use their offices to glorify the legacies of slavery. 

In recent years, there has been a commendable effort by various American states, local governments, and the federal government to remove symbols honoring figures associated with slavery.

In 2021, the Shenandoah County Board of Education (SCBE) in Virginia removed the names of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Turner Ashby, from two schools. For those unfamiliar, the Confederate States of America were a collection of Southern states, including Virginia, that seceded from the United States in the 1860s and fought to preserve the institution of slavery as a fundamental element of their economies. 

In May 2024, the SCBE decided to reverse course and restore the names of the Confederate generals to the schools. 

Why does this matter in the fight against modern slavery? 

The decision to reinstate the names of Confederate generals sends a troubling message.  Instead of honoring individuals who contributed positively to Virginia’s history, the SBCE chose to honor three  slave-holders who fought to maintain legal slavery. One board member even praised General Jackson’s “character”, “loyalty”, and “leadership.”  Jackson’s character included owning other human beings.  

To effectively combat modern slavery, we must confront the realities of historical slavery and its enduring impact. By honoring figures linked to slavery, we perpetuate a narrative that undermines our efforts to advocate for abolition.  

And we are still calling for abolition in the U.S. where slavery is legal as a punishment for crime as outlined in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. This provision allows for the exploitation of incarcerated individuals, facilitating a system of coerced labor that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. 

Our campaign to amend the 13th Amendment seeks to remove this explicit permission for slavery within the prison system and ensure that all forms of slavery are unequivocally outlawed. We believe that no individual should be subjected to involuntary servitude or forced labor. 

What this renaming implies

Some believe that slavery is one of the most egregious practices known to man. In Shenandoah County, the Board of Education appears to have concluded that slavery is not that big a deal. 

To the African-American residents of Shenandoah County, and particularly, the African-American students who attend these schools, the message is clear: We honor those who fought for the right to enslave your ancestors and who would have enslaved you had you been alive in the ante-bellum South. 

To the white students at these schools, they are taught that there is no accountability for one’s actions, no matter how heinous. 

To the broader country, the message is sent that Shenandoah County is a region that is intent on marching with banners flying toward a misguided romantic vision of 19th Century to honor those who, as General Grant observed, fought “long and valiantly” for “one of the worst [causes] for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” 

 Virginia would do better to support the movement to end legal slavery in the U.S. If you agree, join us and take action today 

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