General Thomas Highway

I was intrigued by our discussion on Thursday about Jefferson Davis Highway because I know of an opposite situation caused by the Civil War. I am from a little town called Newsoms which is about two and a half hours south from here. A major highway that runs through my area is General Thomas Highway, named after George Henry Thomas who grew up in my town. Thomas witnessed Nat Turner’s rebellion which happened in my county. He and his family had to hide because of it and from that event his views on slavery changed. He joined the Union during the Civil War. His wife who was a Northerner might have influenced this decision. Still, his family disowned him because he chose the other side. However, I also have heard that because of his connections to our town, we were preserved from much of the upheaval that went on during the Reconstruction period.

I haven’t heard him being referred to as a traitor by anyone although that stuff still exists. The Civil War is obviously still a touchy subject but more so when you grow up in the rural South, where economic poverty is seen widespread in both black communities as well as white. Yes, there is a decent amount of separation still, with the phrase “wrong/right side of the tracks” literally being applied. Also, the scenery remains relatively the same. There are still rundown plantations and roads named after rebellion events. There is a road near my elementary school called Blackhead Signpost, *referring to one of the punishments inflicted on slaves who rebelled.* I’m not sure what to make of this. I can see how it is offensive to some and not to others, but also more than that I think it is important not to white-wash anything more than we already do. For instance, I never learned Newsoms was the birthplace of the “Rock of Chickamauga” till well into high school I believe. The Nat Turner rebellion is covered in our schools, but I still doubt most people know it happened on our county’s soil. Where I live agriculture is still very much a way of life and a driving force for our economy. For instance our water tower in my town does not mention our history but says “Home of the Jumbo Peanut” which is I guess what will definitely draw people to the middle of what some would refer to as the “boonies”. In some ways I think we are stuck in the past and in some ways I think I am better off seeing my county’s salted wounds that are still festering from a war fought 157 years ago and its aftermath that Virginia still feels to this day. Other people haven’t had that experience and are quite sheltered from the racism that is still prevalent in society.

We were talking about words and the symbolic meaning behind them in my Sociolinguistics class. Last week we discussed the mountain near the Maryland/Pennsylvania border named Negro Mountain after the servant who died on it. Some thought that wasn’t honoring at all and they should change the name to the servant’s actual name. I honestly don’t know if that is such a good idea. Is there a line to what should be renamed and what should not? What do we as a society deem appropriate in terms of historical preservation and just racism being memorialized by hiding behind historical preservation? It is a tricky subject and I want to hear your opinions. We already talked about Jefferson Davis Highway but what about the auction block downtown or the debate about statue in Charlottesville. Where do those stand in the spectrum? Is there even a spectrum? I feel like there has to be because there needs to be a balance between remembering our past and regretting it. Can we achieve this balance? Finally what does it say about us as a society if we can’t?

1 thought on “General Thomas Highway

  1. * I would like to retract and edit the statement I made earlier about how Blackhead Signpost got its name. I was talking to my dad over break and he says that the idea that heads of slaves being put on posts on that road is folklore where we live and has persisted through generations. This is the first I am hearing of this. Of course I did not do enough research to verify either claim so I just want to set the record straight as to the validity behind that statement.

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