Statues Lee and Jackson

Growing up in Virginia gave me more than school days and that of coming of age during trying times in our contemporary history; it gave me a better understanding of our shared history. Many of us, my age, maybe a bit younger and definitely those who are older, remember the civil rights movement and what Vietnam did to this country.

Of course, none of us remember, first hand, Bleeding Kansas or the Border War between Kansas and Missouri in the 1850s. Freedom Fest and Grady Atwater and so many people, who care about Osawatomie’s heritage, have been helping to unveil that shrouded picture. But a little background first.

Every Saturday morning of my youth, my mother drove me “downtown” to get my asthma injections, something I had been diagnosed with at the age of 4. Mom’s favorite route to the doctor’s office located in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Fan District – just west of the Virginia State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson – took us around two statues on Monument Avenue.

Stonewall Jackson, seated on his horse, faces north with his sword drawn to the sky. Even his horse is raring up in front, as in a vintage western movie. Jackson died in battle, thus his image faces the north. My father once took a black and white photograph of a headstone placed over where Jackson’s arm, lost in an effort to save his life after being fatally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville, is buried.

The much larger of the two statues required a round-about, similar to the one north of Paola on Old Kansas City Road, but with two wide lanes instead of one. A somber Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler face south. Lee survived the war and with his mount returned after the war. Traveler’s head, unlike Jackson’s steed, hangs sadly, representative of the defeat.

One of my earliest pictorial memories was in one of my father’s history books. For some reason I returned time and again to this black and white print of a convicted John Brown being led from his trial. I had no idea at a young age what I was viewing. I just saw sadness. But as I listened to history lessons in school and read about Harper’s Ferry, that image stuck with me.

At Freedom Fest 2010, all of this returned to me more clearly when Florella Adair and General Robert E. Lee shared their stories. Florella Adair, John Brown’s half-sister, said, “John had attained what he wanted,” whereas Lee spoke about how sad the whole series of events from arrest to hanging had been. Keep in mind, Colonial Robert E. Lee had been ordered to arrest Brown. Lee insisted that Mary Brown see her husband one last time before the hanging. John Brown wanted nothing to do with this but relented at Lee’s persistence and allowed Mary into his cell.

Florella described her brother’s mindset, when she said, “John truly loves black folks. He calls them by Mr. and Mrs.” And as hostilities continued after the Battle of Osawatomie in 1856, Florella described more and more about the years 1858 to 1859 and ended each story with the line, “Poverty, persecution, and death.”

I knew those individuals speaking Florella and Lee’s lines were only acting the part but spoken in this manner the words seemed to resonate further, as when Lee said, “My duty was to lend my sword…there were others drawn against…well, Virginia.” I already knew this, but the spoken word in this setting in Osawatomie, Kansas, seemed to offer a deeper understanding on a human level, than a history teacher (sorry to my history teacher friends) telling a class about these things.

What struck me the most under the tent at Freedom Fest? The Civil War had not even begun in the East, but it had in Osawatomie, Kansas and in little places all along the Kansas and Missouri dividing line. I already knew all of this, but something beyond the textbook –costumes and the spoken word – really helped.

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Posted by Kevin on Sep 29 2010. Filed under Kevin Gray, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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