By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise
[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.