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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

Little Sorrel and his Owner

When my daughter and I drive up and down Monument Ave, she recites the names of the monuments, calling each one out like a friend. Going West to East as we drive she says "Hi" to "Mr. Arthur," "the splittly-splat (which is her name for octopus, and given that it is Murray, the oceanographer, that seemed to fit)," and then there is "Little Sorrel," the "flag parade (a monument to Jefferson Davis)," "Traveler," and "Highfly." For a 4-year-old girl, the Statues of Jackson, Stuart and Lee are reduced to the names of their horses. And I haven't corrected her. The statuary on Monument Avenue here in Richmond is still being debated. For many many of these men are reminders of the oppression and injustice still hotly rampant in our current age. For others they are historical touchstones. History tells us that Stonewall Jackson was a brilliant tactician, but it also tells us that he believed slavery to be a mandate of heaven created by God. General Lee was of the same mind, though he only ever experienced slavery at its "best" and never knew the horror of the plantation, or, likely, the intimate thoughts of those in "congenial" captivity in his experience. At the heart of it Lee believed that the Africans were better off as slaves in America than as free people in Africa. J.E.B. Stuart, one of Jackson's close friends, is remembered as a knight of the battlefield, chivalrous and resplendent. Documentation of his thoughts on slavery are scarce, but his few comments, and his deep friendship with Jackson reflects their similar emotion on slavery. They all of course owned at least a few slaves. Jefferson Davis was a plantation owner. He argued anti-cessation for years, mostly on financial grounds. As a plantation owner, he had to have been familiar with the dark, vicious, and evil practices of the slaves owned there. He argued that slavery in the U.S. was a " a moral, a social, and a political blessing." And believed that God has made the African man and woman expressly for the servitude of his race.

I would rather my daughter know the names of the horses. I would rather she grow up a little bit more in her innocence before she has to learn what the men who rode those horses, and sit among the parade of flags, thought of the people she knows as friends and family and aunts and uncles and teachers. Look a little longer on the playful names, and their statues prance down the road as we drive. And ignore, for just a while yet, their nameless riders. I wish this was a world where I could only teach her about the horses. I wish the statues borne the names on the animals rather than the riders. But, at some point she will need to know so that she can stand against people who would rather revere the riders. She needs to know of the riders willful ignorance, and staunch refusal to see human brothers and sisters. Riders who perverted the message of Love that is the Gospel for their own comfort, financial gain, and political access. Men who were cruel, but thought of as heroes, and who now stand in the road we travel not as celebrated leaders from a bygone era of history, but as baleful warnings to everyone who passes beneath them. At some point I will teach her about the horse's rear end, who is riding her beloved thoroughbred.

Because this is a new world. A world where a certain kind of evil is still trying to live on, and one that needs people like her and I to sew love, and to continue to drive out ignorance, vileness, and misappropriation of the Gospel. Someday, she will know the names of the men on the famous horses she knows, and she and I will look at them each day as we pass and remember, and be inspired to continually attack hatred with caring, and injustice with compassion, and hurtful rhetoric with healing actions. And we will dream of the next world, where statues are erected to men and women, and horses, who do good in a world of pain.


Cited: James I. Robertson, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend(1997)

Douglas S. Freeman, Lee (1934)

Robert E. Lee, to Mary Anna Lee, December 27, 1856

Mary Williamson, Life of Jeb Stuart (1997) Jefferson Davis, Jefferson Davis (1995)

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