Civil War Memorials, Race, and Public Space

Confederate Civil War memorials are ubiquitous in the American memorial landscape. As I noted in my previous post, the majority were constructed in homage to the white antebellum Southern narrative. It is also important to note the memorials that “are missing” in the memorial landscape: those that commemorate slaves and people of color. Although there are more than 700 memorials dedicated to the white Confederate soldiers and leaders, these are the memorials/projects that I have found that are dedicated to the “invisible” people of the Civil War. If I have missed any, please let me know.

Freedman’s Memorial to Abraham Lincoln (also known as the Emancipation Memorial)

This memorial, located in Lincoln Park, Washington D.C. was dedicated in 1876. The memorial was funded by contributions from ex-slaves; yet the design and location of the sculpture was determined by the white elite of Washington. Thomas Ball designed a sculpture of a standing Lincoln and a kneeling, partially clothed slave. Ball claimed the statue represented the acceptance of emancipation by a freed slave. After the commission examined Ball’s initial design, they asked for “a more representative form of a negro such that the “African type’ was not overdone” (Savage.114). Ball made the requested changes. Frederick Douglas, who spoke at the monument’s dedication, noted the symbolism of a kneeling, partially clad man at the feet of Lincoln, was a representation of a “white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men” (Savage. 199). Douglas stated that the statue’s primary value was to “defend black citizens against the ‘slander’ of ingratitude… when it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln” (Savage. 119).

The “Mammy” Memorialization Project

After constructing hundreds of Confederate memorials and monuments across the South, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) started a campaign to place a memorial to the Southern “faithful servant”. A UDC fundraising letter claimed that the white women of the South supported the cause “for the ties of kindred and country. How different with the faithful slaves! They did it for love of masters, mistresses and their children. How nobly did they perform their tasks!  Their devotion to their owners, their faithfulness in performing their labors and caring for us during these terribly disastrous years, and their kindness at the surrender, while we were powerless and helpless, have never been surpassed or equaled” (McElya. 206). Another UDC member argued that the project was essential to mold the behavior of future African Americans. She claimed that it was essential to construct “…a monument that will tell the story to coming generations that cannot be taught the lesson of self-sacrifice and devotion of the slave in any other way” (McElya. 207). Indeed, this attempt to create a metanarrative of the slave/master experience became the primary focus of the “Mammy” movement.

The women of the UDC gained Congressional support of the “Mammy” monument in Washington D.C. Senator John Sharp Williams (D, Mississippi) introduced legislation in 1923 to authorize land within the nation’s capital for the construction of a public monument to the “faithful mammies of the South”. According to this bill, the Federal Government would provide the land and the UDC would commission and oversee the construction of the memorial. The vocal African American press called for national protests, noting that these representations of “mammies were imaginary, idealized, desexualized stereotypes” (McElya. 209). As a result of the public controversy, the Senate bill never left the House of Representative’s committee.

The African American Civil War Memorial

The African American Civil War Memorial, dedicated in 1998 in Washington D.C. is the only national memorial commemorating the 209,000 African American soldiers who fought for the Union in the United States Colored Troops. Its centerpiece, a sculpture Spirit of Freedom, was constructed by Ed Hamilton and was the first major artwork by an African American artist placed on federal land in Washington D.C.

References:

McElya, Micki. 2003. “Commemorating the Color Line”in Monument to the Lost Cause, Mills and Simpson, editors. (Knowville: The University of Tennessee Press)

Savage, Kirk. 1994. “The Politics of Memory: Black Emancipation and the Civil War Monument” in Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, John Gillis, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

 

Confederate Statues in Public Space

Yesterday President Trump tweeted that our nation was witnessing “the history and culture of our great nation is being ripped apart”. Maine Governor LePage equated removal of confederate statues to the elimination of the 9/11 Memorial. Not so, Mr. President and Governor. Let’s look at the construction of those confederate memorials that you claim to so admire.

At the end of the Civil War, the Union’s established national cemeteries excluded burial of Confederate soldiers. Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMA) were created to gather the remains of Confederate soldiers and create Confederate cemeteries. Given the lack of funds, many of the Confederate cemeteries were limited to simple obelisks and/or cornerstones for future monuments. Indeed, the president of the Raleigh LMA noted in 1870 that “money was inadequate to the erection of a monument, yet, not to its commencement which in my humble opinion would be judicious, as it would have a tendency to stimulate and arouse persons to action” (Mills, 10).

In addition to burying and consecrating their war dead, the Ladies Memorial Association also served another purpose. Membership in LMAs became a marker of class status. “The Ladies” were wives of doctors, lawyers and business owners. Because these were the elite women of their community, they were also allegedly interested only in domestic matters and assumed to be apolitical. (Janney. 54)

This assumption was not correct. After burying their war dead, the LMAs began to establish the “Lost Cause” narrative of the Civil War. This interpretation of the war minimized the role of slavery as the cause of the Civil War and claimed that the primary cause was a Constitutional disagreement between the powers of federal and state powers. It also incorporated a narrative of white antebellum Southern culture. The 1890s represented a decade of monumental construction. The LMAs held ‘lawn parties’ that included Confederate memorabilia, music, and re-enactments. The officers of the LMA demonstrated great political and social acumen as they secured state and individual funding for hundreds of Confederate memorials that were constructed in public spaces in the 1890s. The now infamous Lee statue at the University of Virginia was one of these, erected in 1924 with funding from Paul Goodloe McIntire, a local commodity trader. McIntire also sponsored a nearby statue of “Stonewall” Jackson.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was established in 1894 and became the umbrella organization for the LMAs. The UDCS knew that fundraising and implementation of Confederate monuments was essential because “…monuments would speak more quickly, impressively, and lastingly to the eye than the written or printed word…(and) attract more attention.” (Mills.209).  There were two periods that embedded the majority of Confederate memorials in the public memorial landscape: 1890-1920s and the 1950s.  The first period included the implementation of Jim Crow laws and the resurgence of the KKK and lynchings of Southern blacks. The 1950s saw a resurgence of memorial construction during the Civil Rights era.

These memorials were not created to honor the Confederate leaders or honor the Southern war dead. They are the white antebellum Southern narrative carved in stone. No wonder that it is offensive to so many. Perhaps those monuments can be repurposed in their removal from public space to Confederate cemeteries or museums that provide context and information. But to pretend that these are consecrated memorials is simply incorrect.

 

References:

Janney, Carolyn. E. 2012. Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause.

Mills, Cynthia and Simpson, Pamela, editors. 2003. Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. (Knowville: University of Tennessee Press).