If you are going to write about the life of Stonewall Jackson and the statues erected to honor him, it would be wise Washington Post reporters to clarify their facts. A few days ago, Kerry Dougherty highlighted a howler of an error in an article by Mail reporter Dave Phillips, who wrote that Jackson became an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute after the Civil War. (For those new to Virginia, Jackson died in 1863 after the Battle of Chancellorsville.)
Ian Shapira, other Mail reporter, you are guilty of making a historical mistake. that has been repeated in more than one article. It comes out in his latest update on the latest turmoil at the Virginia Military Institute, where it turns out that two board members resigned without explanation before the Visiting Board voted to remove the Jackson statue.
On that article, Shapira writes: “Jackson, a six person enslaverHe taught at VMI before helping lead the Confederate Army. “
Yes, it is a historical fact that Jackson owned six slaves, but did not enslave them. The definition of “enslaving” is making someone a slave, or causing someone to lose their freedom of choice or action. The people who enslaved other people during Jackson’s life were located in Africa. By the 1860s, European and North American nations had suppressed the Atlantic slave trade, but the horrendous practice was alive and well in East Africa, where Arab slaveholders continued to raid towns and “enslave” the inhabitants to sell them in the Indian Ocean slave markets. Jackson did not “enslave” anyone.
Some might answer that the difference between “owning” and “enslaving” a person is an unimportant semantic distinction. Evil is evil. Perhaps that is true as a moral argument. But the fact is that owning and enslaving two are very different things. It would have been a trivial matter for Shapira to write: “Jackson, who had six slaves, taught at VMI.”
His use of the term “enslaved” in more than one article betrays an inadvertent imprecision in the language or a conscious desire to portray Jackson in the worst possible light.