Tag Archive for 'slavery'

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.

A plaque on the stone reads as follows: IN MEMORY OF / THE FAITHFUL SLAVES / MANY OF WHOM WERE MEMBERS OF / HAWFIELDS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH / AND ARE BURIED IN THIS CEMETERY / “BE THOU FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH AND I / WILL GIVE THEE A CROWN OF LIFE” REV. 2:10 / THIS TABLET IS PRESENTED BY THE FAMILY OF STEPHEN ALEXANDER WHITE / AND DEDICATED BY THE HAWFIELDS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH / 1908 – 1922

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.

On This Day: The Thirteenth Amendment

On December 6, 1865—147 years ago today—the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

It had been a long time coming. Nearly three years earlier, in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the rebellious states. (Lincoln had also issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation several months earlier, on September 22, 1862.) Before the end of the Civil War in 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to formally abolish slavery. It would take months, though, before the Amendment was ratified—and President Lincoln, who had fought tirelessly for the Amendment, was assassinated before he could see it ratified.

On December 6, 1865, the amendment finally received the necessary number of state ratifications. Consisting of two sections, the Amendment read as follows:

Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Era Constitutional amendments. Nineteen months later, the Fourteenth Amendment would be ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves. And, in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment would grant African American men the right to vote. To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, and to view a digitized copy, check out this page from the National Archives.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, check out Alexander Tsesis’ The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History (NYU Press 2004), and his edited volume, The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment (Columbia University Press 2010).

To learn more about the abolition of slavery, check out Michael Vorenberg’s Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge University Press 2001).

The recently released movie, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis as President Lincoln, was co-written by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and focuses on Lincoln’s drive to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  To learn more about President Lincoln’s work toward emancipation, check out Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard’s edited volume, Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Southern Illinois University Press 2007). For more on the Emancipation Proclamation, check out William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger’s edited volume, Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered (UNC Press 2009).

Remembering Uncle Tom

On March 20th, 160 years ago, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel that immediately captured the nation’s attention and precipitated increased anti-slavery agitation in the decade leading up to the Civil War.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin follows the personal lives of the slave known as Uncle Tom and his family as they suffer through the sales, violence, separation, and death that characterized American slavery. Fiercely religious and protective of his family, Tom puts himself in harm’s way to keep his family together and provide them with whatever protection he can.

Written partly in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in serialized form in the periodical the National Era. Immediately popular, the narrative was published in book form on March 20th, 1852, selling more than 300,000 copies in the United States within its first year of publication.

The narrative personalized the violent and horrifying nature of slavery, striking a nerve in an American culture which had for years looked the other way and allowed slavery to continue. In its 160-year history, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than sixty languages and is still widely read today.

Stowe’s main character, Uncle Tom, was partly inspired by the life and memoirs of the Reverend Josiah Henson, a former slave turned abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker. Henson’s autobiography, Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life, is available through the DocSouth Books publishing initiative, in e-book and print-on-demand paperback format.

For more information about the story and significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, check out the extensive information available online through the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

To learn more about the publication history of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, click here.

A great collection of primary documents—including copies of original illustrations and book reviews—is available here.

To learn more about Harriet Beecher Stowe, click here.

The News & Observer recently published a great contextual summary: click here.