Tag Archive for 'commemoration'

Commemorating Faithful Slaves, Mammies, and Black Confederates, Pt. 2

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise

Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia,

Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia,

[This is the second of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

The “Faithful Slaves” monument in Mebane (see first installment of this essay) is just one example of the regional, even national, enthusiasm for commemorating “mammies” and “faithful slaves.” Perhaps the most striking manifestation of this impulse was a decades-long campaign to erect a monument to black “mammies” in Washington D. C. As early as 1904, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began campaigning for a memorial to “faithful slaves,” and Southern congressmen took up the cause, unsuccessfully seeking federal funding for a monument in 1907 and 1912.2 A milestone in the UDC’s campaign to commemorate both the Confederacy and “faithful slaves” was the erection of the Confederate Monument in Arlington National Cemetery in 1914. Sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran and prominent sculptor, the imposing monument includes thirty-two life-sized reliefs, including a frieze depicting a loyal black slave accompanying his Confederate master into battle and another that portrays a departing Confederate soldier bidding farewell to his children, who cluster around an “old Negro mammy.” According to Hilary A. Herbert, who wrote a history of the monument in 1914, the monument depicted “the kindly relations that existed all over the South between the master and the slave – a story that can not be too often repeated to generations in which “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” survives and is still manufacturing false ideas as to the South and slavery in the ‘fifties.’ The astonishing fidelity of the slaves everywhere during the war to the wives and children of those who were absent in the army was convincing proof of the kindly relations between master and slave in the old South.”3

Even after the erection of the Confederate Monument at Arlington, UDC activists remained committed to a national monument dedicated to “mammies.” The value of such a monument was clear to its supporters: one proponent explained that “a noble monument” to the memory of black “mammies” and to “their loyal conduct refutes the assertion that the master was cruel to his slave.”4 Passionately, the monument enthusiasts argued that it “would not only tell the traditions, romance, poetry, and picturesqueness of the South, but would speak the pathetic scenes enacted in many grand old Southern homesteads. No one who was rocked to sleep by the sweet lullaby of the faithful black ‘mammy,’ listened to her weird ghost stories, nursed at her breast, or played about her cabin door would ever be willing to have these tender memories die out. There is the side of sentiment, the side of gratitude, that those who have felt the touch can never give up, nor can they forget the debt due the faithful ‘ten per cent of slaves that remained with their masters after freedom.'”5

In February 1923, the Senate, prodded by the UDC and at the behest of Senator John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, passed a bill granting permission to the Washington D.C. chapter of the UDC to erect a monument to “faithful slave mammies.” In the House of Representatives, Charles M. Stedman of North Carolina, a Confederate veteran, introduced a virtually identical bill. Although the House bill languished while Congress was out of session, sculptors began submitting designs for the monument. Simultaneously, outraged blacks organized in opposition to the proposed monument, and the combination of this opposition and shifting legislative priorities subsequently prevented the passage of the House bill in support of the monument. Eventually the UDC and the monument’s supporters conceded defeat.6

1. For more on “Faithful Slave” monuments, see Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 155-161.

2. Mrs. W. Carlton Adams, “Slave Monument Question.” Confederate Veteran 12 (November 1904): 525 (accessed June 28, 2013).

3. Herbert, Hilary A. History of the Arlington Confederate Monument [Washington, D.C., 1914], 77 (accessed June 28, 2013).

4. Wallace-Sanders, Kimberly. Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Subversive Black Mammy. Emory University, June 12, 2009 (accessed June 28, 2013).

5. Confederate Veteran 13 (1905): 123 (accessed June 29, 2013)

6. Mills, Cynthia. “Commemorating the Color Line: the National Mammy Monument Controversy of the 1920s.” Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory. Ed. Cynthia Mills and Pamela H. Simpson (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2003); McElya, Micki. Clinging to Mammy: the Faithful Slave in Twentieth-century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 116-159; MarieJohnson, Joan. “‘YE GAVE THEM A STONE’: African American Women’s Clubs, the Frederick Douglass Home, and the Black Mammy Monument,” Journal of Women’s History 17 (Spring 2005): 62–86.

Commemorating Faithful Slaves, Mammies, and Black Confederates, Pt. 1

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise

Erected June 4, 1922, in Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina

The “Faithful Slaves” memorial, erected June 4, 1922, in Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina

[This is the first of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, white Southerners engaged in a frenzy of commemoration and monument building. In addition to honoring Confederate soldiers and the Lost Cause, they also sought to commemorate African American “mammies” and “faithful slaves.” Anxious to refute any suggestion that slavery had required the dehumanization of African Americans, white Southerners recalled their enslaved caretakers as willing “servants” who had been content, even grateful, for their lot in life. These commemorative gestures, which only hinted at the complex relationship that existed between slaveholders and slaves, served to legitimize white privilege and inform blacks of their “proper” place during the Jim Crow era. Simultaneously, some African Americans exploited the image of the “faithful slave” by pointedly reminding whites who railed against black criminality and fecklessness that blacks had been trustworthy in the past and, in fact, remained so. Even today, recent efforts to commemorate so-called “Black Confederates,” or slaves who allegedly fought on behalf of the Confederacy, demonstrate the continuing contests over acknowledging the historical complexities of American slavery.

One example of white commemoration of “faithful slaves” stands in the cemetery of the Hawfield Presbyterian Church in Mebane, North Carolina. Erected on June 4, 1922, the monument is a roughly-cut, rectangular stone with a bronze plaque. It, along with two other plaques, were donated in honor of the founders of the church, the former and present pastors of the church, as well as the “faithful slaves” who are buried in the church cemetery. The donors of the monument were members of the family of Stephen A.White, a businessman, prominent local politician, and an elder of the church.


This Biblical passage and the monument’s location are telling. The passage presumably was selected to explicitly compare the slaves’ servitude to devout Christians’ obedience to God, who will “give thee the crown of life.” The passage renders the condition of servitude in a manner that whites, who knew of slavery only from the vantage of slave masters, presumably found both acceptable and compelling. Simultaneously, it underscored that faithfulness to masters, as to God, was both a necessity and an obligation. The apparent intent of the inscription is to suggest that just as God gives life to his faithful followers, so too slave masters gave life to their loyal slaves. And while the plaque specifically commemorated former slaves who had been members of the Hawfields Presbyterian Church, no names of any of the “faithful slaves” were included on it. Consequently, the monument memorializes them in the abstract, and these nameless slaves are honored in the context of a segregated church and a segregated cemetery. The monument, in sum, is a memorial to the slaves’ condition vis a vis their white masters rather than to them as individuals.1

1. For more on “Faithful Slave” monuments, see Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 155-161.

NC Officials Commemorate Site of 1963 Civil Rights Protest

North Carolina state officials yesterday commemorated the site of a peaceful civil rights protest that occurred nearly forty years ago. For 32 days in the summer of 1963, Green Memorial Church in Williamston, NC, was the site of a nonviolent civil rights protest attended by more than 400 people, mostly children and teenagers. In a county where tensions had been high since the 1957 acquittal of a white man accused of murdering a black man, civil rights protesters eventually helped bring about the desegregation of some town facilities.

State officials dedicated a highway marker at the Church on Sunday. See the Associated Press story here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/N/NC_FREEDOM_RALLIES_NCOL-?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Michael Kreyling on the Politics of Memory

From the Center for the Study of the American South: Michael Kreyling, Professor of English at Vanderbilt University, explores the cultural politics of memory in representations of the South through an examination of re-enacted memory in latter-day versions of the Civil War. Professor Kreyling’s talk is part of the Center’s Hutchins Lecture series.

Michael Kreyling – Who Needs Ceremonies of Memory?: The 150th Anniversary from CSAS on Vimeo.

Haley Barbour Reverses Course on Civil Rights Movement

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, excoriated for saying that the Jim Crow era wasn’t “that bad”–and maybe it wasn’t, for him–has reversed course and is now supporting a $50 million dollar civil rights museum. He wants the museum to be built with private donations, so he might avoid sour looks from those who think that history is too frivolous to spend cash on during an economic slump, but more important is what political observers believe the move means: Barbour is serious about running for president in 2012. And apparently believes that supporting construction of a civil rights movement will win him some support in his effort to unseat the United States’s first black president.

Lurking in Barbour’s explanation of his support for the project are hints of the crisis of memory historians have been calling attention to for years: the confinement of the civil rights movement to history. “The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it,” Barbour said. It won’t be up to Barbour to make choices about how the story of the civil rights movement is told in the museum, but his position is clear–the movement is over.

Coming to Terms with WEB DuBois

The reaction of residents of Great Barrington, Massachusetts to life in W.E.B. DuBois’s birthplace for many years typified many Americans’ response to the civil rights movement and its leadership: pride in its aspirations but discomfort with its goals, an embrace of the broad principles of equality and fairness and willful ignorance about its more revolutionary aims, including aggressive anti-poverty efforts. This is the attitude that celebrates Martin Luther King as a champion of colorblindness and re-imagines his ultimate goal as children joining hands across racial lines rather than restructuring American capitalism. It is, too, an attitude, that in ignoring the ambitious goals of the civil rights movement, allows for its co-option (Historian Joseph Crespino has written widely on the subject, including here and here.).

W.E.B. DuBois

In Great Barrington, for years residents welcomed praise for DuBois, the pioneering black intellectual and civil rights activist, and cringed at the memory of his radicalism, his Communism, his sharp criticism of the United States, and his decision to leave the US late in life. He died in Ghana in 1963. But as Great Barrington shuffles toward the 250th anniversary of DuBois’s death, residents are starting to embrace his legacy with fewer qualms. Whereas in the past, plans to name a school after DuBois were quashed, now some commemoration is underway that will hopefully restore his name to the esteem it deserves, in western Massachusetts and elsewhere. Could Martin Luther King, widely memorialized but incompletely so, be next?

The whole story’s at the Washington Post.

Video of the Week: Renee Romano on Memory Work

Renee C. Romano of Oberlin College, gives her talk “A Really Long ‘Long Civil Rights Movement’? Memory Work and the Struggle for Racial Equality” at the Southern Oral History Program’s conference, The Long Civil Rights Movement: Histories, Politics, Memories. The conference took place in Chapel Hill, NC, from April 2-4, 2009.

View more video in the LCRM Common Room.