In the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., violence that left one person dead and 19 others severely injured, there has been renewed debate over the presence of Confederate monuments in cities and states across the U.S.
For many Americans, the historic statues serve as a bitter reminder of slavery, oppression and white supremacist ideology, while others simply view them as works commemorating the history of the Confederate South and its leaders.
Now, two of the closest living relatives of famed Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson have weighed in on the issue, and they’re offering a viewpoint some might not expect.
In an open letter published in Slate magazine Wednesday, Aug. 16, brothers Jack and Warren Christian entreated the mayor of Richmond, Va., to remove the statue honoring their great-great-grandfather, along with all the other Confederate statues situated on Monument Avenue. The men described the statues as “pre-existing iconography for racists.”
“The time is long overdue for them to depart from public display,” they wrote, adding that the removal of the Jackson statue and others would help spur tough conversations about racial injustice. “We are writing to say that we understand justice very differently from our grandfather’s grandfather, and we wish to make it clear his statue does not represent us.”
In their letter, the duo addressed the fact that Jackson had two sides — he was reluctant to fight in the war and taught Sunday school to enslaved Black Americans. Still, he decided to own slaves and fight on the side of white supremacy, two offenses his grandsons said they just couldn’t ignore.
“While we’re not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our Black family and friends suffer,” the two men wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.”
During a recent interview with Democracy Now!, Warren Christian, who works at the University of North Carolina, said he always feels somewhat disgusted when he walks past the campus statue of his great-great-grandfather. He said it’s not common knowledge among his peers that he’s related to the Confederate leader.
“I think Jack and I, and along with our parents, it’s kind of some mixed feelings, mixed emotions, about being direct descendants of Stonewall Jackson,” Christian said. “It’s not something that I, you know, widely share, outside of a very close group of friends. So, this is really kind of a coming out, in a sort.”
Warren and Jack Christian aren’t the only descendants of Confederate leaders who are speaking out.
Robert E. Lee V and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, the great-great-grandchildren of Gen. Robert E. Lee told CNN that they’d have no problem if officials removed his statue in Charlottesville. Efforts to remove the controversial monument is what spurred the violent protests there last weekend.
“If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today,” Lee said in a separate interview with The Washington Post.
Both Lee and Crittenberger agreed that a museum might be a better place to house such statues honoring Confederate leaders, where they can be placed in context.