Confederate Civil War memorials are ubiquitous in the American memorial landscape. 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.
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)