Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is the only Black statewide elected official, bowed out of a planned tribute to Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The state senate has annually adjourned for the day to pay tribute to both Robert E. Lee and Jackson, though the plans to honor Lee on Friday were scrapped for scheduling reasons, according to the Washington Post.
But on Monday, when Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. called for the Senate to adjourn for the day to honor Jackson’s birthday, which was on Sunday, Fairfax moved from his spot as the presiding officer to a bench that Senate pages used. Sen. Stephen D. Newman, the Senate pro tempore, presided in his place.
Fairfax said that his quiet protest was a “personal decision.”
“There are people in Virginia history that I think it’s appropriate to memorialize and remember that way, and others that I would have a difference of opinion on,” he told reporters. “I just wanted to, in a very respectful but very definite way, make it clear that these were not adjournment motions that I felt comfortable presiding over, and I was not going to do it.”
When Fairfax was sworn in as lieutenant governor on January 13, he had the manumission document from 1798 that freed his ancestors from slavery.
The cloud of Charlottesville
While this tribute was an annual tradition for the Virginia Senate, this is the first time since the infamous Charlottesville rally that it was held, and the lawmakers there seemed to be aware of it.
Hanger, whose great-great grandfather served with Jackson in the Stonewall Brigade, acknowledged that this moment in history made the Confederate honor uncomfortable, but insisted that Jackson was still worthy of recognition.
“I’ve done this numerous times before, and I expect that someone on this floor has repeated this tradition here in the General Assembly every year — perhaps 155 times over 155 years since Jackson was killed in battle and lay in state here behind me down the hall in this Capitol,” Hanger said.
“And yet today is different,” he continued. “We all know it and we struggle to hide our discomfort — discomfort with people who have given disgusting voice and vile action to the racism and bigotry that seemingly respectable people have managed to hide in their hearts.”
“Jackson was not a perfect man. As a devout Christian, he had conflicting views on slavery. But there’s no questioning the fact that in his short life, he became one of the most respected military leaders the modern world has known.”
Maybe Hanger and others like him should pay a little more attention to that discomfort and recognize that history has moved on from “tributes” like this.