Author Archives: Paul Mullins
In 1915 Tom Brooks was murdered in Somerville, Tennessee by a mob of 100-200 White men. Brooks had been accused of murdering a wealthy White planter and his plantation manager, and when he was being returned to Somerville to stand trial a week later, a mob seized him from police. The vigilantes took Brooks to a nearby railroad bridge where he was hung, and Brooks’ murder was followed by a commonplace ritual of photographing the victim. Arkansas’ Batesville Daily Guard was among the newspapers that reported “when the news spread that there was a negro hanging beneath the bridge, all the town folk of Fayette [County] turned out to view the work of the mob. Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene and picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant on the ground and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched negro” (compare press coverage including The Crisis, Nashville’s The Tennessean, and Vicksburg, Mississippi’s The Daily Herald).
On April 26th the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens in Montgomery, Alabama commemorating Brooks and over 4400 Black victims of lynching. In preparation for its opening, 60 Minutes’ Oprah Winfrey reported on the museum and the heritage of lynching, and the report included examples of the scores of lynching images that were taken during the racial terror killings of people like Tom Brooks. 60 Minutes chose to show images of lynching in prime time, even as they acknowledged that these pictures are enormously unsettling things: contemporary White audiences are perhaps ashamed to acknowledge the social tolerance for (if not acceptance of) vigilante mob murders; many people are repulsed by the images’ ghastly materiality of torture; and a few consider lynching an anomaly safely lodged in the past, if not a misrepresentation of objective history (compare David Horowitz’s argument that the museum is a “racist project” and suggestion that “many” lynching victims “were guilty of heinous crimes”).
The NAACP’s The Crisis regularly published lynching pictures, convinced that the undisguised barbarity of lynching photographs would fuel public sentiment against lynching. However, most White newspapers and even a few readers of The Crisis considered the images counter-productive. In February, 1937, for instance, The Crisis responded to a complaint from a reader who objected to an image of Lint Shaw, who had been murdered in Royston, Georgia in April, 1936. A reader suggested that “the printing of such pictures did not aid the fight against lynching, but served only to create racial hatred.” The Crisis responded that they felt “the sheer horror of lynching serves to rouse ordinarily lethargic people to action.” In 1930 the Indianapolis News rejected The Crisis‘ argument when it lamented the widespread circulation of an image of two men lynched in Marion, Indiana (which appeared on the front page of Indianapolis’ African-American The Indianapolis Recorder). The News argued that “a revolting photograph is nothing else, no matter how much a newspaper may urge that its use may teach an object lesson.” However, several days after the murder the paper did publish pictures of curious crowds milling about the tree, and the city’s other White newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, published images of people inspecting the damaged jail from which the prisoners were taken.
The images may have been furtively consumed by circles of White people as souvenirs or racist curiosities, but they usually were greeted by shallow if not superficial dismay when they surfaced in public space. In November, 1937, for instance, on the fourth day of a Southern filibuster of an anti-lynching bill, Missouri Senator Bennett Champ Clark displayed images in the Senate chamber of the April, 1937 lynching of Roosevelt Townes and Robert McDaniels. Townes and McDaniels had been chained to trees and tortured with a blow torch before being set afire and then photographed (images here and here). Texas Senator Tom Connally complained that the images were “making a sewer out of the United States Senate,” suggesting Clark should have displayed “photographs of some innocent child outraged by these foul fiends.”
Embed from Getty Images
Above: Bennett Champ Clark displayed this poster in the Senate chambers as Southern Democrats led a filibuster against an anti-lynching law (Getty images)
Regardless of the uneasiness some Americans had with the pictures’ public display, lynching images were widely distributed as picture postcards, souvenirs, and ghoulish curiosities. In 1902 the Charlotte Observer reported that “there is a lively competition between three local photographers for the sale of lynching photographs. One firm prints a condensed account of the crime and the lynching on the back of every photograph. There have been some large out-of-town orders.” In 1908 the Post Office forbade the mailing of material that might be construed as inciting murder, a ruling responding to postcards with four African Americans murdered in Russellville, Kentucky (image here). When observers complained that the image of four men hanging from a tree should not be mailed, the Owensboro Daily Messenger conceded that the image was “decidedly gruesome” but concluded that “there is nothing obscene in the picture.”
Despite the 1908 edict, there is little evidence the Postal Service genuinely attempted to restrict the mailing of lynching photographs, which continued to be distributed long after the Post Office’s ruling. In June and July, 1911, for instance, Wichita, Kansas’ The Weekly Eagle ran advertisements selling “those famous lynching pictures from Ofuskee County” Oklahoma for $1 a dozen. On May 25, 1911 an African-American mother and her son, Laura and L. D. Nelson, had been seized from a jail where L.D. was being held for suspected murder and hung from a railroad bridge, and local photographer George Henry Farnum captured individual close-ups of each body and two scenes of the crowds gathered on the bridge (image here).
Lynching photography provided a visual rhetoric for mob violence that shaped the process, performance, and staging of lynchings. For instance, perhaps the most unsettling feature of lynching images is their depiction of orderly White perpetrators casually gathered around a corpse or somebody they are preparing to murder. Amy Louise Wood argues that lynching images legitimized collective White violence by portraying these “orderly, respectable mobs” untroubled by the horrific details of hanging, burning, or torture. Sandy Alexandre argues that the visual convention of a victim suspended from an anonymous tree or pole in an unidentifiable place separated from the ground confirmed Black landlessness and material dispossession.
The viewers of 60 Minutes may well be unsettled by the images that were part of Winfrey’s report (compare Executive Producer Jeff Fager’s interview on the decision to use the images), and some viewers may find the images traumatizing records of racist violence. Nevertheless, viewing lynching images in mute horror risks ignoring that their visual rhetoric frames how we view images like Michael Brown’s body lying on Canfield Drive. 60 Minutes aspired to compel audiences to look at and experience distress, but historical apologists risk reducing such images to macabre anomalies at odds with America’s otherwise democratic ideals. Beyond their capacity to publicly acknowledge the history of racist violence, the real power of lynching images may be to face up to the ways the visual rhetoric and rationalizations for lynching continue to shape life along and across the contemporary color line.
2012 The Properties of Violence: Claims to Ownership in Representations of Lynching. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson.
Allen, James (ed.)
2000 Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
2004 Imagery of Lynching: Black Men, White Women, and the Mob. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Equal Justice Initiative
2006 A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
2012 A Law of Unintended Consequences: United States Postal Censorship of Lynching Photographs. Visual Resources 28(2):171-19. (subscription access only)
2011 Blood at the Root: Lynching as American Cultural Nucleus. SUNY Press, Albany, New York.
2001 A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Molloseau, Erika Damita’jo
2008 Exhibiting Racism: The Cultural Politics of Lynching Photography Re-Presentations. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.
Tolnay, Stewart Emory and E. M. Beck
1995 A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
Wood, Amy Louise
2009 Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
2013 Valency and Abjection in the Lynching Postcard: A Test Case in the Reclamation of Black Visual Culture. Slavery & Abolition 34(2):202-221. (subscription access only)
On December 20th, the Memphis monument dedicated to Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was quietly removed by Memphis Greenspace. The non-profit had purchased the former Forrest Park (known as Health Sciences Park since 2013) earlier that day for $1000, giving it control over the Forrest monument. For the same price the city simultaneously sold its easement on Fourth Bluff Park, which held a Jefferson Davis monument (and a less well-known bust of Confederate soldier and Memphis journalist James Harvey Mathes). With $250,000 raised from a host of unspecified sources, Memphis Greenspace removed the monuments, and they remain hidden in storage awaiting their final fate.Embed from Getty Images
Above: The pedestal for the Forrest monument remains where his statue stood since its dedication in 1905 (image Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Where the Forrest and Davis monuments once stood there are now empty pedestals or foundations that frame a whole new public discussion on heritage and memory. As Confederate monuments are removed from a host of public spaces, the absences they leave confirm shifting attitudes toward Confederate heritage even as they continue to evoke neo-Confederate memory and spark White nationalist activism. On January 6th, for instance, a handful of White nationalists protested near Health Sciences Park displaying the banner “`Diversity’ = White Genocide.” Another group unable to penetrate the circle of police surrounding Health Sciences Park drove around Memphis’ freeway in a “rolling protest” waving Confederate flags; however, some of those protestors distanced themselves from the unabashed neo-Nazis who gathered at the park that once held the Forrest statue.
Dedicated in May, 1905, the Memphis Bedford Forrest monument memorialized perhaps the most polarizing of all Confederates. Forrest’s obituary in the New York Times labeled him “notoriously bloodthirsty and revengeful,” invoking Forrest’s role in the April, 1864 battle at Fort Pillow where his soldiers were accused of murdering a large number of African-American soldiers who had surrendered or were wounded. In 1880 one newspaper reported on the Forrest monument proposal and complained that “General N.B. Forrest’s treason is to be commemorated by a monument at Memphis.” Nevertheless, Forrest was celebrated by unrepentant Confederates as an unschooled but tactically brilliant field general. In 1891, Nashville’s The Daily American encouraged its readers to contribute to the Forrest monument fund, indicating that there “was no braver General in the Confederacy than N.B. Forrest; no officer more daring and heroic. The monument should be worthy of the man.” Planning for a Forrest monument began shortly after his death in 1877, and in 1901 the foundation for the statue was laid. The most sacred of all relics was buried at the monument site in November, 1904, when Forrest and his wife were exhumed and reburied at the feet of the monument’s pedestal. The couple remains buried in the park now, but it is expected that they will be re-buried in Elmwood Cemetery, where both were originally interred.
The first wave of Confederate monument removals was in 2017, but there had been protests of Confederate monuments since the 1950s. The Forrest statue, for instance, was targeted by protestors in March, 1956, when the statue was splashed with white paint and its sabre removed, and a replacement sword was subsequently welded onto the Forrest statue. When the saber was again taken in 1962, officials decided not to replace it. In 1979 Memphis activist Isaac Richmond petitioned the city to remove the Forrest monument, likening Forrest to Hitler. In March, 1986 the statue was spray painted with “KKK,” and in September, 2013 Forrest’s monument had red paint and an anti-Ku Klux Klan message emblazoned on it. In August 2015 “Black Lives Matter” was painted across the base of the Forrest monument, and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan offered to pay to move both the statue and the Forrest graves to its “Christian Revival Center” in Arkansas. In 2015 Isaac Richmond was again protesting the monument, and he and a group of protestors dug a ceremonial shovel of soil from the Forrest grave days after the Memphis City Council began to debate its removal.
Deliberations over the removal of Confederate memorials intensified in the wake of the Charleston church murders in June, 2015. In August, 2015 the University of Texas moved a statue of Jefferson Davis from the campus mall to an indoor location (removing three more in August, 2017), and a year later Louisville, Kentucky relocated a Confederate monument to Brandenburg. However, most communities did not act until the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. On August 11-12, 2017 a host of alt-right groups gathered in Charlottesville to contest plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, and a protestor was killed in weekend violence.
The most prominent removal of Confederate monuments prior to Charlottesville came in New Orleans, where four monuments were removed in April and May. Like the Memphis sites, the New Orleans monuments were removed but foundations, columns, and landscaped spaces once associated with the statuary remained behind. New Orleans’ Lee Circle, for instance, is still graced by a towering 60’ column and eight-foot “lookout tower” that Robert E. Lee had stood atop since 1884. The 1891 Liberty Place Monument is also a foundation without the plaques and monument that decorated it for more than a century; and the General P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis statues left behind the pedestals on which they once stood.
A series of monuments was removed in the weeks and months after Charlottesville, and nearly all of them left foundations in their wakes. On the night of August 16th, for instance, Baltimore removed four Confederate monuments. One of these, the Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee Monument, was dedicated in May, 1948 in the midst of a post-war revival of neo-Confederate politics. When State’s Rights Presidential candidate Strom Thurmond visited Baltimore that October he visited the new statue to pay homage to the rebel Generals then attended a rally at which 1000 people were waving Confederate flags and delivering rebel yells.
Like nearly every Confederate monument being removed, the Lee-Jackson monument has been a magnet for activism since the moments it was being dismantled. While the statue was being removed August 16th, police monitoring the process permitted onlookers to take selfies, and afterwards a stream of observers took pictures of themselves on the empty pedestal. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh suggested the pedestal eventually should have a plaque installed that outlines the monument’s history and describes why they were removed. Within a day of the Jackson-Lee monument’s removal, protestors intent on redefining the space installed a papier-mache statue on the empty pedestal. Pablo Machioli’s “Madre Luz” depicts a pregnant Black woman with a baby on her back, and it was first temporarily displayed alongside the Lee-Jackson statue in 2015. When the Lee-Jackson monument was removed in 2017, “Madre Luz” was returned to the pedestal, though it was toppled off the pedestal within a day. Many more Confederate monument spaces have been graced at least temporarily with impromptu artworks. For instance, when the Baltimore monument of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney (who presided over the 1857 Dred Scott decision) was removed, Baltimore artist Shawn Theron placed a painting reading “Spread Love” on the empty pedestal. After a monument in Durham was removed by protestors a metal heart sculpture was installed on the vacated pedestal, only to be removed a day later.
Memphis’ sale of Medical Sciences Park was a unique effort to avoid laws that prevented the city from removing the Forrest and Davis monuments, and many other states’ Confederate landscapes are legally protected. Frustrated by such regulations on North Carolina monuments, on August 14th protestors in Durham, North Carolina toppled a 1924 rebel soldier statue off its foundation. In Boston, officials decided to cover a Confederate monument with a wooden box while they debate what to do with the statue; the Charlottesville statue of Robert E. Lee that sparked protests in Summer 2017 leading up to the Unite the Right rally remains in place, shrouded in fabric.
Some communities have concrete relocation plans for the monuments themselves, but others simply have placed the statues in storage. After a Confederate monument was removed from the Howard County, Maryland Courthouse grounds in August, it was given to the local Ellicott City Museum. In Gainesville, Florida the United Daughters of the Confederacy paid to remove the statue of a Confederate soldier at the Alachua County Administration Building, moving it to a local cemetery. Lexington, Kentucky monuments of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge were removed in October. The city suggests it plans to relocate them to Lexington Cemetery, where Morgan and Breckinridge are buried, but the statues remain in storage now. Baltimore likewise proposes to place its removed monuments in a local cemetery, but at the moment they are being stored awaiting a final decision. New Orleans announced in May, 2017 that it planned to install a water feature at Lee Circle, but the monument’s column remains isolated in the traffic circle now. The city indicated it had no plans to rehabilitate the Liberty Place monument site, instead resolving to leave the square foundation in place as a mute material testament to the brazen memorial to White supremacy.
Perhaps the absence of Confederate statuary will provide new spaces for celebratory monuments commemorating a new host of heroes and heroines (e.g., Missy Elliott), but that strategy risks simply reproducing a tired notion of triumphant public art. There is of course no single strategy for reclaiming the Confederate memorial landscape. In the Ukraine, thousands of Lenin statues have been destroyed or decapitated, with one Lenin monument near Odessa now dressed as Darth Vader. In London, a blank pedestal in Trafalgar Square has been adorned with rotating commissioned works striking a variety of tones.
While most removed Confederate statuary now languishes in storage, other controversial monuments have been placed in new public contexts. For instance, Grūtas Park in Druskininkai Lithuania is decorated with 86 Soviet-era monuments as well as Soviet guard tower and camp remains. Memento Park in Budapest holds 42 Communist-era statues that simultaneously interprets Soviet tyranny and places monuments in new contexts inviting a host of group images that mock the statues’ ideological designs. After India secured its independence in 1947, Dehli’s Coronation Park became the home to a scatter of British colonial statues including a 49-foot high marble monument to King George V. Once the site of three royal celebrations known as Durbars, the park today holds colonial busts, statues, and empty plinths that have largely fallen into disinterested ruin.
The Confederate memorial landscape and the statuary removed from it will inevitably remain disputed things. Efforts to simply efface them are unlikely to be an especially effective mechanism to illuminate the White supremacy that has routinely distorted Confederate history. Empty pedestals and plinths may well materially shape public discussions on Civil War heritage and color line privileges that Confederate statues have often masked and evaded. Some communities have championed moving the Confederate monuments to cemeteries apparently removed from public reflection, and others have suggested placing these statues in museums might provide a sanctioned reading of Civil War heritage. Those approaches may work in some ways, but the absent voids left by Confederate monuments can provide important public material confirmation of neo-Confederate history-making and memorialization. Empty plinths may become visible scars effectively illuminating the ways race and privilege have long concealed themselves within Confederate memorialization.
Confederate Women’s Memorial Base (Baltimore) 2017 image from BalPhoto
Coronation Park (Dehli) 2014 image from Harshanh
Forrest Monument 2017 image from Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jefferson Davis Monument Base (New Orleans) 2017 image from Bart Everson
Republic of Councils Monument (Hungary) group image from Memento Park
The heroes of Confederate hagiography long laid an unchallenged claim to Southern public spaces and American White imagination. However, few if any Confederates immortalized in the rebellion’s memorial landscape are still viewed as untroubled icons of honor and manhood. As monuments to neo-Confederate heroes are now rapidly being removed from public space, one of the most interesting Confederate icons is Robert E. Lee’s famed horse Traveller. Traveller is himself a symbol used to narrate the Confederate cause, and he has had the status of relic since the 19th century. The most sacred relics are the physical remain of a venerated figure’s body or the things with which their body was intimately contacted (e.g., clothing). A relic is some object or material place that is experienced as an active presence representing values that followers aspire to reproduce (see Gary Vikan’s description of relics). Traveller may seem a distinctive figure to cast as a relic, his status largely beholden to his connection to Lee. Nevertheless, Traveller’s materiality provides an illuminating story of Confederate history-making.
Perhaps the most famous of all Southern horses, Traveller was born in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1857. The horse that became known as Traveller was an 1100-pound 64-inch high American Saddlebred sired by a race horse known as Grey Eagle. Traveller’s owner J.W. Johnston originally named the horse after the Mississippi Senator “Jeff Davis,” who of course would become famous as the President of the Confederate States of America. Despite Johnson’s 1908 claim to have sold the horse to Lee, he sold Jeff Davis in 1861 to Captain Joseph M. Broun, who re-named him Greenbrier. In 1861 Broun was serving alongside Robert E. Lee, and in Traveller lore Lee reportedly took a fancy to Broun’s horse. Broun’s brother Thomas wrote in 1886 that “in the fall of 1861, he [Lee] first saw this horse and took a great fancy to it. He called it his colt, and said he would need it before the war was over. When the general saw my brother on this horse he had something pleasant to say to him about `my colt,’ as he designated this horse.” Lee resigned from the US Army on April 20, 1861 when Virginia seceded, and he would assume command of Virginia’s secessionist forces three days later. Thomas Broun indicated that his brother sold Greenbrier to Lee in February 1862. Lee renamed the horse Traveller. Read the rest of this entry
This post also appears on Invisible Indianapolis
In February 1961 Indianapolis, Indiana’s Jewish Community Center held a public discussion panel on “The Negro as Suburban Neighbor.” The surrounding northside community was home to several of the city’s earliest African-American suburbs, but many of those neighborhoods were resistant to integration. Despite its open membership policy, the JCC also did not count a single African American among its members.
Dr. Reginald Bruce was among the guests asked to speak on behalf of the northwestern suburbs’ African-American residents. In November, 1960 Reginald and Mary Bruce reached an agreement to purchase a home at 5752 Grandiose Drive. The Bruces were the first to integrate the newly built homes along Grandiose Drive. Bruce told the group at the JCC that since moving to Grandiose Drive “his family has been harassed by threatening phone calls and gunshots through the window since moving into the predominately white area.” Some White audience members vigorously opposed integration of the neighborhood, and one complained that the meeting had been rigged by the NAACP.
The Bruces’ experience integrating the northwestern Indianapolis suburbs would be repeated all over the country. That story of suburban integration—long acknowledged in African-American experience but unrecognized by most White suburbanites–is beginning to be told in popular cultural narratives. The suburbs have long been a staple of mainstream cinema, variously painted as disabling assimilation (The Stepford Wives), emotional repression (American Beauty), creative boredom (Grosse Point Blank), profound sadness (The Virgin Suicides), or the prosaic magnet for inexplicable phenomena (Poltergeist, Coneheads, Edward Scissorhands, etc). However, the story of suburban segregation has rarely been told in films.
Last weekend Suburbicon debuted at the Venice Film Festival, and George Clooney’s movie (which opens in the US in October) is distinguished by its ambition to tell the story of racism and integration in suburbia. The film takes its inspiration from the integration of Levittown, Pennsylvania, one of William Levitt’s seven suburban communities. The Levittowns were the model for interchangeable, assembly-line produced housing on the urban periphery, so they are often rhetorical foils for suburban narratives in popular culture and historiography alike. The most unsettling implications of Clooney’s film are that it is an utterly commonplace historical tale: the story of the integration of the Levittown outside Philadelphia in 1957 could be told in any American community. Read the rest of this entry
In May, 1919 Indianapolis, Indiana’s “Southern Society”—a group of Indianapolis residents composed primarily of former Southerners—proposed to the Indianapolis Parks Superintendent that a Confederate memorial be moved to one of the city’s parks. The memorial had been erected at Greenlawn Cemetery in 1909 to commemorate Confederate prisoners of war who died in Indianapolis’ Camp Morton. Just over 1600 prisoners had been buried in Greenlawn, but by 1919 the former cemetery had become a modest, poorly maintained city park crowded by factories and railroad lines.
The transplanted Southerners’ interest in preserving the Confederate memorial found a receptive audience in the 20th-century North. While Confederate monuments were being erected throughout the South in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, Civil War monuments were also part of a Northern landscape that aspired to unify the once-divided nation. When the Greenlawn memorial was erected by the federal government in 1909, it was part of a national reconciliation over the legacy of the rebellion that commemorated the foot soldiers of the former Confederacy. The Confederate cause would be largely forgiven by the generation that had grown up after the war, and monuments dotting the South and North alike publicly confirmed a national reconciliation. Yet that forgiveness emerged from a nation committed to Jim Crow segregation, and monuments like the Greenlawn memorial aspired to reconcile and unify the White nation that had waged a civil war a half-century before. A century later the Greenlawn memorial illuminates the ways the Confederate monumental landscape has long distorted Southern heritage and leveraged Confederate mortality in the service of White nationalism. Read the rest of this entry
In 1961 the United Daughters of the Confederacy presented Phoenix, Arizona with a memorial dedicated to Arizona’s Confederate soldiers. The “Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops” is a copper ore stonework shaped in the state’s outline that rests atop a pedestal graced by petrified wood. The monument sits on a plaza alongside 29 other memorials at the Arizona State Capitol that range from war memorials to a Ten Commandments monument. The Phoenix Confederate memorial is far removed from the heart of Civil War battlefields and Southern centers, but it is now part of a nationwide debate over the contemporary social and political consequence of Confederate things.
In the pantheon of Confederate things, statuary is perhaps somewhat distinct from the flags, license plates, and assorted collectibles emblazoned with Confederate symbols. Statues and memorials aspire to make timeless sociohistorical statements and define or create memory, capturing idealized or distorted visions of the war that say as much about their makers and viewers as their subject. Yet as time passes monuments routinely begin to appear aesthetically dated or even reactionary. Viewed from the vantage point of the early 21st century, many Confederate monuments are simply documents of 150 years of shallow fantasies of the South and the Confederacy. Some of those public monuments can possibly foster counter-intuitively reflective and sober discussions about the Civil War, which is a century-and-a-half heritage rather than an objective historical event. However, such discussions risk being circumvented by contemporary Confederate defenders who distort the Confederacy’s history and studiously ignore why an imagined Confederate heritage has become so appealing—if not unsettling–well outside the South.
While it rarely appears in standard Civil War narratives, Arizona can claim a genuine Civil War history. Swaths of southern Arizona and New Mexico territories were claimed by the Confederacy a century before the monument was erected in Phoenix. A secession convention agreed to leave the Union and become the Arizona Republic in 1861, and in February 1862 it became recognized by the Confederacy as the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Confederates fought under the Arizona banner through the war, but the Governor of the Confederate territory retreated to Texas in July, 1862, and for most of the war the military presence in the region was by Union forces.
The vanquished Confederacy began to memorialize its cause almost instantly. The town of Cheraw, South Carolina claims to have erected the first Confederate memorial, a cemetery marker erected in June, 1867 (while the town was still occupied by Union forces); a Confederate memorial was dedicated in September, 1867 in Romney, West Virginia. These earliest monuments to the Lost Cause were nearly all cemetery memorials, but the South began busily erecting public monuments to the Confederacy in the late-19th and early 20th-centuries. Scores of statues were placed in former Confederate towns, mostly by a host of ladies’ memorial associations who assumed the care for the Civil War dead and would become the leading proponents of Lost Cause ideology. From its first issues in 1893, Confederate Veteran zealously tracked such monument construction efforts (for example, compare their 1893 monument inventory), and by 1914 they gushed that roughly a thousand public monuments dotted the South: “Year by year with increasing rather than decreasing devotion all over the Southland monuments are rapidly being erected to the heroes who died in the effort of the Confederate States to win a national life.” Read the rest of this entry
Between 1938 and 1945 the little Bavarian town of Flossenbürg was the home for a Nazi concentration camp that held political prisoners, German criminals, and, near war’s end, Hungarian and Polish Jews. About 30,000 prisoners died in Flossenbürg and its neighboring subcamps by the time the camp was liberated in April, 1945.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected dimensions of Flossenbürg today is that it is a beautiful little Bavarian town that departs from our imagination of a landscape of genocide. Nestled in the Bavarian forest near the contemporary Czech border, Flossenbürg was a small medieval village that was home to granite quarry laborers by the late 19th century. Atop the village’s highest point sits the picturesque ruins of Flossenbürg Castle, which was built in about 1100 and eventually was burned in 1634 during the Thirty Years War.
Many dark tourism sites associated with death, tragedy, and disaster are likewise aesthetically appealing contemporary spaces. Sites like Flossenbürg acknowledge our anxieties about death, violence, and injustice, and interpretation at such sites usually paints a sober if unsettling picture of historical experiences. Nevertheless, many of these preserved places inevitably have been purged of most of the material trappings that made them horrific places, and some of them like Flossenbürg are once more visually appealing spaces despite their heritage.
The American landscape is dotted with places that witnessed enormous tragedies, and much like Flossenbürg they have now been absorbed into the everyday landscape. Unlike Flossenbürg, though, many of these American sites clumsily negotiate their dark heritage or simply ignore it in favor of aesthetically pleasant contemporary landscapes. Some of the most interesting examples are Southern plantations, where surviving buildings, landscapes, and archaeological materiality are the products and expression of captive labor. Yet few if any plantations conceive of themselves as sharing the mission of dark tourist sites whose stories revolve around trauma and tragedy. Some plantations have embraced a critical analysis of the relationship between captives and White slaveholders, but many have not really pushed beyond painting the plantation as a relic of the antebellum South. Read the rest of this entry
In June, 2016 a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and murdered 49 people. In the aftermath of the murders the club has been routinely invoked in a wide range of political causes, but materially it has become a place that illuminates the depth of homophobia, complicates gun rights, and recognizes domestic terrorism. Like most dark history, the Pulse nightclub materializes death and profound tragedy, and that makes it an especially productive place to concede anxiety, apprehension, and fascination alike. Pulse may have become part of an “uncanny” materiality; that is, it is among a host of things and places that provoke uneasiness because, in Freud’s words, it “ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” (PDF; compare archaeological examples from Gabriel Moshenska, Paul Graves-Brown, and Graves-Brown, Rodney Harrison, and Angela Piccini). People flock to Pulse because it allows us to acknowledge anxieties about hate crimes, terrorism, homophobia, and gun violence and potentially brings them into an open public discussion, a discussion that some people welcome and others want to escape. That discussion is inevitably challenging: the club may be the proverbial historical “open wound,” confronting us with a recent past so repugnant and unpleasantly contemporaneous that we struggle to acknowledge it or simply ignore it entirely.
After the murders Pulse instantly became a scene of spontaneous memorialization, and it is unlikely to ever again be a more-or-less invisible leisure space in the midst of interchangeable retail outlets. Within a month of the killings The Orlando Sentinel’s Caitlin Dineen recognized that Pulse “has found its way onto itineraries for tourists from around the world who pay their respects and leave handmade memorials” (cf. The Advocate’s June video of the spontaneous memorial). As visitors continually flock to the club, various parties have begun to discuss a place-based commemoration, which might involve the preservation of the structure, a radical remodeling, or its complete demolition. Barbara Poma opened the club in 2004 in memory of her brother who had died of AIDS 13 years before, and in the wake of the murders she almost instantly proposed to re-open the club as a memorial. In August, 2016 Poma proposed to transform the club into a memorial, and in November she reached a preliminary agreement to sell the club to the city of Orlando. However, before the City Council could approve the $2.25 million selling price, Poma had a change of heart and decided not to sell the club site. Read the rest of this entry
In the 1890s the Lessenberry and Edmonds families were among the scores of African Americans migrating to Indianapolis. The two Kentucky families were part of a wave of African Americans who swelled the Circle City’s population in the early 20th century. Fueled by post-Emancipation optimism as well as a sober acknowledgment of Jim Crow racism, many African-American families went north to cities like Indianapolis. James Edmonds and his three children came to Indianapolis in 1890, and Price and Amy Lessenberry and their four children followed in 1898. The families were compelled to contend with Hoosier racism and segregation in their new home, and they were among the many newcomers whose lives were transformed by impoverishment and a segregated social service system.
A migration wave in the wake of…
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Four centuries ago Hendrick Avercamp immortalized the Dutch winter landscape as a snowscape crowded with ice skaters traversing canals and gathering on frozen ponds. Painting in the early 17th century, Avercamp’s works are almost wholly devoted to winter scenes that feature numerous people skating. Avercamp’s idyllic landscapes featured a rich cross-section of people having fun on the ice during a “little Ice Age” that delivered a half-millennium of harsh winters. Avercamp’s focus on ice and ice skating helped make winter landscapes a staple of Dutch art while confirming skating’s centrality in the heart of the Dutch imagination.
Avercamp may not have known that Netherlanders would spend the subsequent centuries traveling and playing on frozen waterways, leading numerous 21st-century observers to sound off that skating is “ingrained in Dutch DNA.” Even beyond the Netherlands, few dimensions of Dutch culture are more firmly impressed in mass imagination than ice skating: Every four years even Americans are briefly in awe of the Dutch domination of Olympic speed skating, and picturesque images of skaters in Amsterdam’s canals routinely grace tourism literature.
Embed from Getty Images
Amsterdam Canal Ice Skating (Getty Images)
On December 19th it was announced that “the tradition of skating on natural ice” was added to the Netherlands’ national inventory of intangible cultural heritage (a list of those traditions is on the Netherlands Cultural Heritage website). Ice and skating are novel intangible dimensions of heritage, since ice has a fleeting material presence, and skating is common to many other societies; nevertheless, the celebration of ice skating aspires to capture the distinctive Dutch experience of ice and could provide a novel framing for Dutch heritage. Read the rest of this entry