Sunday, May 17, 2009
OHP BOOK REVIEW: STONEWALL JACKSON, THE BLACK MAN'S FRIEND BY RICHARD G. WILLIAMS
Non-fiction, pictures, foot notes, bibliography, index, 223 pp., 2006. Cumberland House Publishing, Inc, 431 Harding Industrial Drive, Nashville TN 37211. $20.95, plus shipping and handling.
Shelby Foote stated, “Academic historians seem to think the facts are the story; the facts are only the bare bones of the story.” Many historians know about the “facts” of Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson’s life. Some are content with this limited knowledge, while others seek to find more information about Jackson, a man who, in his own right, has become a hero of the South. Richard G. Williams explores an aspect of Jackson’s “story” in Stonewall Jackson, The Black Man’s Friend that few historians have broached.
“Tom Jackson was the poor, orphaned young mountain boy who would, by sheer determination, graduate from West Point; the shy, backward, stammering young man who would become an influential speaker, educator, and leader in Lexington; the strict Calvinist deacon who questioned predestination; the fearless Confederate General who would weep over one of his slaves’ deaths; the slave owner who would risk criminal prosecution and social ridicule by teaching slaves and free blacks to read and to seek the same Savior who had redeemed his own soul.” Williams shows in this one sentence the many different aspects of Jackson’s life that the readers may or may not know. His book explores the statements pertaining to Jackson’s Christianity and his treatment of blacks by using documents, interviews, historical resources, unpublished letters and photographs. “Jackson fervently believed that all of God’s children, regardless of color, had an equal right to seek the kingdom of heaven,” states James I. Robertson, Jr. in the foreword of Stonewall Jackson, The Black Man’s Friend.
This book mainly examines the influence Jackson had in the black community before, during and after the war. It is amazing that his influence is still found in Lexington, Virginia today. In one chapter entitled, Stonewall Jackson and Lylburn L. Downing, Williams looks at the connection of these two men, who never meet. Ellen Downing gave birth to Lylburn a little over a year before Jackson’s death. Even though Downing was born into slavery, he was taught the Word of God through Jackson’s Sunday-school class, like his parents. Eventually Downing is called into the ministry to lead others to God. Williams brings to light an article on Downing appearing in the May 10, 1936 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch that states, “The little colored boy was much impressed with the accounts of the life and work of the great soldier and teacher. As he grew older and studied the life of this hero of his own community he came to regard Stonewall Jackson not only as one of the greatest military geniuses of all time, but also as one of the best friends the Negro race had ever known.”
Downing always wanted to honor Jackson, “the man he credited for his family’s Christian heritage.” After nurturing a small congregation, Downing built a church in Roanoke, Virginia. He raised the funds to place a stained glass window inside the church that “honored Jackson for his dedicated and literary and gospel work among slaves and free blacks in the Lexington area.” The window can still be seen in this black church. The reader is able to see how Jackson’s influence was felt even after his death through this story and others presented by Williams.
An in-depth look at the relationship between Jackson and Jim Lewis is also presented. Williams gives a well researched point of view about a part of Jackson’s story that many know little about. Henry Kyd Douglas of Jackson’s staff states, “The faithful fellow has become historical by reason of his association with General Jackson, to whom his devotion was a kind of superstition. He became important and was aware of it and never denied an anecdote told him, however incredible, if the General was in it. He was a handsome mulatto, in the prime of life, well-made and with excellent manners, but perhaps altogether true only to the General.” This friendship will live through history as an example for the future generations.
The death of Jackson was devastating to the South, but most especially to those who loved him most. Williams details the last days of Jackson’s life with vivid imagery from those loved ones who were with him until the end. The reader is able to relive the pain felt by those present during this traumatic, but final episode in the General’s life. Anna, Jackson’s wife, says about Lewis’ grief, “Tears were shed over that dying bed by strong men who were unused to weep, and it was touching to see the genuine grief of his servant, Jim, who nursed him faithfully to the end.”
The final chapter takes the reader to the funeral of General Jackson. A nation was mourning a man who had unknowingly written his name in history books forever. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” John 15:13
Williams does a fantastic job in telling a part of the life of General Stonewall Jackson. Not only does he investigate Jackson’s relationship with blacks, but he tells about Jackson’s death and funeral. There are many books that review Jackson’s military genius, but a limited few that examine his “lasting and positive impact on Southern blacks.”
Richard G. Williams, Jr. has written for many Southern periodicals, including the Southern Partisan. He has also authored The Maxims of Robert E. Lee. He currently resides in Stuarts Draft, Virginia.
Written by Cassie A. Barrow