Letter to the Editor: Should Marshall University rename Jenkins Hall?

Chris+Hodge+is+a+2014+graduate+of+Marshall+University+and+a+proud+Son+of+Marshall.+He+lives+in+Huntington%2C+West+Virginia+and+serves+as+a+Library+Information+Specialist%2C+Sr.+with+the+Marshall+University+Libraries.+He+can+be+reached+via+email+at+chris.hodge%40marshall.edu.
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Letter to the Editor: Should Marshall University rename Jenkins Hall?

Chris Hodge is a 2014 graduate of Marshall University and a proud Son of Marshall. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia and serves as a Library Information Specialist, Sr. with the Marshall University Libraries. He can be reached via email at chris.hodge@marshall.edu.

Chris Hodge is a 2014 graduate of Marshall University and a proud Son of Marshall. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia and serves as a Library Information Specialist, Sr. with the Marshall University Libraries. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

Chris Hodge is a 2014 graduate of Marshall University and a proud Son of Marshall. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia and serves as a Library Information Specialist, Sr. with the Marshall University Libraries. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

Chris Hodge is a 2014 graduate of Marshall University and a proud Son of Marshall. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia and serves as a Library Information Specialist, Sr. with the Marshall University Libraries. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

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Did you know that Marshall University’s Jenkins Hall was named in honor of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Gallatin Jenkins? Did you know that prior to the Civil War, Albert G. Jenkins owned Green Bottom, one of the largest and most brutal slave plantations in West Virginia?

Did you know that Jenkins owned between 50 and 80 slaves? Did you know Jenkins owned men, women and children? Did you know these slaves built the Green Bottom by hand for nearly a decade? Did you know that Jenkins also rented out his highly skilled “laborers” to neighboring farms and nearby towns? Did you know this likely included sending them to work laying brick for buildings in what we now call Huntington?

Did you know that these same slaves lived on the banks of the Ohio River in wooden shacks only 15 miles north of Marshall University and a hundred yards from freedom? Did you know the Ohio River was the boundary line between freedom and bondage? Did you know slaves called the Ohio River the River Jordan and sang songs about it?

Did you know that in 1860 the Ohio River was less than a foot deep in most places? Did you know that across the river in Lawrence County there were more than 50 men, women and even children who are documented conductors on the Underground Railroad?

Did you know that Jenkins would light tremendous bonfires along the Ohio River at night to keep an eye on his slaves? Did you know that he likely watched them from the window of the mansion that his slaves built for his family? Did you know that Jenkins employed between 20-30 people to keep an eye on his “property?” Did you know that Jenkins also employed professional slave hunters to catch anyone who dared escape? Do you know what happened to runaways slaves that got caught?

Did you know that during the Civil War, Jenkins committed terrorist acts and war crimes against the United States of America? Did you know that this included terrorizing the citizens of West Virginia both free and enslaved? Did you know Jenkins ordered his men to seize and destroy the property of West Virginia citizens? Did you know this included guns, food, horses, cows and people? Did you know that Jenkins called these human-beings “contraband” when he took them?

Did you know that prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Jenkins led several “slave hunts” whose primary purpose was to round up as many black men, women and children as possible and enslave them? Did you know that this included both “runaway slaves” and free blacks? Did you know it was mostly women and children? Did you know that this likely included free blacks from the Martinsburg area who were enslaved on June 20, 1863? Did you know that was the day West Virginia became a state? Did you know that Mountaineers were not always free?

Did you know that historians estimate that between 500 and 1,000 blacks were brutally seized by the insurgent Confederate terrorists as they marched towards Gettysburg? Did you know that Jenkins was there on horseback, overseeing the “slave hunts?” Did you know that Jenkins was later shot in the head at Gettysburg? Did you know that some people think that makes him a hero?

Did you know that Union soldiers freed the slaves at Green Bottom? Did you know that while it is highly likely that some of Jenkins former slaves settled across the river in Lawrence County, that not a single African-American living there after the Civil War had kept the surname Jenkins? Do you even have to ask yourself why?

Did you know that Jenkins Hall is where we teach our teachers? Did you know that Jenkins Hall is currently in the final stages of a major renovation project? Did you know that it is possible to re-name buildings after you renovate them?

Did you know that some people call this “erasing history?” But did you also know that Marshall University houses one of the largest Civil War collections in the world, The Rosanna Blake Library of Confederate History? Did you know I did most of the research for this using that collection? Do you know how many horrible things I read I couldn’t include here? Have you ever read something that made you want to scream?

Did you know that Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ slave plantation Green Bottom is still standing? Did you know it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978? Did you know that after the slaves were freed in the 1860s that Green Bottom ceased to be profitable? Did you know the Jenkins family lost Green Bottom to foreclosure in 1930s? Any guess as to why?

Did you know that the Jenkins Hall building wasn’t funded by donations from the Jenkins family? Did you know that the building of Jenkins Hall was funded and constructed from New Deal funds from the Federal Government?

Did you know that Green Bottom is undergoing a major renovation and may eventually be made into a museum? Did you know it sits boarded up after nearly $3 million dollars in renovations? Did you know that we paid for it? Did you know there are signs on Green Bottom that say “No Trespassing: U.S. Government Property?”

Did you know that Albert Gallatin Jenkins is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery? Did you know that people still leave him flowers, wreathes and Confederate flags? Did you know that if you wanted to honor his memory, you can visit him there?

I didn’t know any of this. Not until I did the research and read the sources. I knew the name “Jenkins Hall” but I didn’t know the history behind it. Because history isn’t erased, it’s forgotten. History isn’t just where we find answers about our ancestors, but the questions that define ourselves.

So how do we honor a man like Jenkins? How do we keep his name alive? What lessons do we learn from seeing his name set in stone? Do we learn anything at all? Does continuing to call a building “Jenkins Hall” honor his memory or our own ignorance?

What will history say about us?

Chris Hodge is a 2014 graduate of Marshall University and a proud Son of Marshall. He lives in Huntington, West Virginia and serves as a Library Information Specialist, Sr. with the Marshall University Libraries. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

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