Updated Wedneasday, June 17, 2020 at 10:25 p.m.
The Harrison County Commission voted Wednesday not to remove a statue of a Confederate general that stands in front of the county courthouse in downtown Clarksburg. Calls for the removal of monuments and markers honoring Confederate figures come amid protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
After an hour and a half of public comment, the Harrison County Commission rejected a motion to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and return it to the Daughters of Confederacy, the organization that gifted the statue in 1953.
The effort to remove and return the statue failed on a 1-2 vote with David Hinkle supporting the motion. Commission president Ron Watson and Patsy Trecost voted for the monument to remain.
Gen. Jackson was born in Clarksburg, Virginia in 1824 and before West Virginia became a state, owned six slaves. His name is used to mark other points of interest throughout North Central West Virginia.
Many who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting said removing the statue would be “erasing history.” Many speakers called for the statue to remain downtown or to put its fate in the hands of the general public.
One speaker, Bill Foster called Gen. Jackson an “old time hero” whose legacy should be preserved. He argued the statue should not be considered offensive, given the racial makeup of those who were attending Wednesday’s meeting to speak about Gen. Jackson’s legacy.
“I'm sorry, but if there's nobody black here to complain about it, I don't know what the complaint is,” Foster questioned as he stood in front of the commission.
Others, like Kenneth Drum, wondered to what end the commission would go to in removing other pieces of history found in the courthouse.
“If we take this statute down, are we're going to take down every other picture in this building? Because some of them represent the same thing,” Drum said while also calling for the question to be put to a vote of the general public.
Some who attended the meeting argued Gen. Jackson should be judged by his more respectable deeds.
“He owned slaves. He and his wife were given slaves,” George Brown said. “At the same time, they both taught black children in a Presbyterian Sunday school — and it’s said that he and his wife were the ones who started that program.”
Those who spoke in support of removing the statue attempted to point to the historical context under which the statue came to be placed in Clarksburg. As Madison Douglas noted, historical facts point to two spikes in the erection of Confederate monuments — first during the Jim Crow era in the early 1900s and again during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“It's not a natural part of history,” Douglas said. “It was a deliberate choice to erect it in a time when civil rights for black people were advancing and people chose to hold up the Confederacy and, by extension, white supremacy.”
Two speakers who identified themselves as relatives of Gen. Jackson called for the statue to be removed. Colin Grant Jackson, who is originally from Clarksburg but now lives in Illinois, attended Wednesday’s meeting virtually to say that decisions on the statue’s fate would be his “birthright” as much as anyone’s.
“I personally believe that this statute does not belong in front of a building that is supposed to be devoted to impartial justice,” Colin Grant Jackson said.
He stated that the statue’s placement in Clarksburg — as well as other monuments around the nation around the same time period — indicates that the intended message was to spread fear amongst black people and was motivated by white supremacy.
“I'm a lifelong Civil War buff and I understand the fascinating history of Jackson and tragedy of the Civil War,” he said. “But I also believe that a heroic statue of his cause in front of the courthouse sends a very specific message of white supremacy against the black population of the county.”
Ryan DeBarr identified himself as a descendant of Gen. Jackson's grandfather, George Jackson, which makes DeBarr a distant cousin of the Confederate general. He, too, argued that the statue should be removed from downtown. DeBarr said the statue represented an “intentional slap in the face” to Clarksburg, the state of West Virginia and black citizens.
“What does it say that a memorial to 24,000 Union soldiers from West Virginia was replaced with [a monument of] one Confederate general?” DeBarr questioned. “What does it say that a statue of a Confederate general went up at the very spot that West Virginia statehood began? What does it say that a statue of a slave owner went up in 1953 at the height of the desegregation conflict? It says it's not really about history.”
Some who expressed a desire to speak during Wednesday’s meeting told West Virginia Public Broadcasting they attempted to phone into the meeting, but were turned away and unable to express their thoughts. Another person who attended the meeting virtually noted they were turned away from attempting to attend in person.
County administrator Willie Parker said security at the courthouse was instructed to maintain social distancing guidelines and limit the amount of in-person attendees at the meeting. Parker said he had no knowledge of anyone being denied access to the meeting virtually or by phone.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam has called for statues of Confederate generals to be removed from Richmond, although courts have halted some of those removals. In some places, Confederate monuments have been vandalized and or toppled by those protesting racism in the United States.
Friday marks June 19 — or Juneteenth — the anniversary of the date in 1865 when African Americans in Texas were made aware that the Emancipation Proclamation that was declared more than two years earlier.
West Virginia Day, a state holiday celebrating the secession from Virginia and the Confederacy, is Saturday, June 20.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Ryan DeBarr's relationship to Gen. Stonewall Jackson. DeBarr is a distant relative of the confederate general, not a direct descendant. The article has been updated to reflect the proper relationship.