A murky legacy: Confederate generals who fought to uphold slavery later helped Black Virginians
By LISA VERNON SPARKS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 28, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — Not much is written in Virginia’s history books about
He led an attack against the
But there is another story about Mahone that is rarely told, historians say.
Post-Civil War, Mahone entered politics and led the
“African Americans are voting in the largest numbers. They are sitting in public office. They are in classrooms, teaching Black students, the largest number of which go into public schools,” said Kevin M. Levin, a
Taliaferro mentored Walker and, after he passed the Virginia Bar exam, he gave Walker a job at his firm, making him the first Black lawyer in that county.
Mahone, Taliaferro and Bland vehemently fought to uphold slavery in
“Being educated, being lawyers, having experienced the war, I think they realized whether they liked it or not,
Speaking of Mahone, Levin added: “He ends up leading, in my mind, the most successful biracial political party of the 19th century. It transforms
Tributes to Mahone include an eastern portion of
It is unclear if there is any organized effort to remove tributes to Mahone. A portrait of Bland, who served as state senator representing Gloucester and Middlesex, hangs in the Old Middlesex County courthouse.
Taliaferro, whose name is pronounced as if it were spelled “Tolliver,” is graduate of the
The university on Thursday adopted principles on the naming and renaming of buildings, spaces and structures. Regarding
Lawyer Walker enters the courtroom
In 1883, standing without representation in a
“I saw the Major out in his yard trying to cut up some wood. I stopped and offered to do this chore for him, but he refused, saying, rather coldly, that he did not want any ‘college man’ waiting on him. This could only mean that he disapproved of higher education for Negroes,” Kelly shared from Walker’s autobiography.
Walker continued to help Bland, regardless, while taking no pay. Walker asked Bland if he thought he would make a good lawyer. Impressed with Walker, Bland agreed and began teaching him.
“Bland actually purchases legal books for
Bland became ill, but connected Walker with Taliaferro, who had taken note of Walker’s abilities and agreed to continue with lessons. A friendship bloomed.
An excerpt from Walker’s autobiography says, “When he and I were both working in his library, he would open up a discussion with me on my personal problems as a Negro. It was just as if I were white or he were not a former Confederate General. We even discussed the slave system for hours at a stretch.”
Walker went on to represent hundreds of Black people, including many cases of men being falsely accused of sexually assaulting white women, according to a biography on the National Park Services website. He became a fierce advocate for education, held local office in
Meanwhile Virginia’s debt had ballooned to $33 million, mostly from state-backed bonds. Conservative interests wanted it paid off as soon as possible, while others had a different vision — Mahone among them.
“There’s another group of people who are much more interested in beginning to see
Concurrently, Blacks began exercising newly found freedom, assured at least on paper by constitutional amendments. They sought opportunities, voted in large numbers and gained seats in Virginia’s legislature and the statehouse in other former Confederate states, Levin said. The party also helped establish the
“It’s a transformative moment,” Levin said. “It’s an interesting life, given where Mahone starts out, especially his experience during the war, and where he ends up. I think Mahone sees a political opportunity in aligning himself with African Americans. In the early 1880s, when they control the state apparatus, it’s a marriage of interest more than it is Mahone coming to terms with his racism and having fought for a country that was trying to establish an independent slave holding republic, which is exactly what the Confederacy was fighting to create.”
But Mahone and his party were viewed as a threat to white political power and Virginia’s racial hierarchy. After four years, the Readjusters lost control, and Mahone was defeated in
“When they rewrote the state constitution, they barred the vast majority of African Americans who had been voting throughout the state,” Levin said. “In a sense, the rewriting of that constitution undercuts all the work that the Readjusters had accomplished.”
Murky legacies debated
Walking on William & Mary’s campus’ quiet grounds, alumna
At the time, the school stressed the proper enunciation of Taliaferro’s name to new students, but nothing about who Taliaferro was or his connection to
It does not surprise her that a building at W&M, in
“I’m not sure. Was he doing it to genuinely be redeemed? And I’m not sure I’m the one to judge,” she said.
The school laid the cornerstone for
“The difficult or surprising piece to start to understand is that how could families or persons or organizations have that sort of mindset,” she said.
Regardless if the university removes the name, Terrell said she would appreciate seeing a fuller account of his story.
Mahone, other than the highway and battlefield monument, has all but been erased from Virginia’s memory, Levin said.
“If you read his obituaries, people were very, very split on his legacy,” he said. “I went through
But for others who fall in the middle, such as Mahone and Taliaferro, perhaps it’s worth a closer look.
“You’re now stuck with a dilemma. I do believe it brings, you know, some complexity into the discussion and the decision-making process,” Cole said. “If you found out that in their later years, they did some great work, you know, for racial reconciliation, some people may not want to change the name after that.”
The Confederate Shadows history project is a collaboration between WHRO Public Media and Virginia Media.