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A Digital Heritage of Confederate Memorialization: Julian Carr and Silent Sam

An undated postcard image of the UNC Confederate Monument.

In 1908 Confederate Veteran reported that a “movement was inaugurated to erect a monument on the campus of the University at Chapel Hill to the boys who put aside their books and doffed uniforms, shouldered their guns, and went to the front in defense of a cause their fathers knew to be right.” That ambition to commemorate the University’s Confederate heritage placed Chapel Hill among many early 20th-century Southern communities memorializing the vanquished Confederacy. A thousand people eventually gathered in June, 1913 “under the oaks of the University campus” to dedicate the memorial to the University of North Carolina’s Confederate soldiers, one of 23 Confederate monuments dedicated in the US in 1913. That monument today known as “Silent Sam” was one of 185 monuments erected at the height of Confederate memorialization between 1909 and 1913 (compare the Southern Poverty Law Center’s inventory of Confederate monuments Google doc). The Chapel Hill dedication came a half century after Gettysburg, when Jim Crow segregation was firmly entrenched in the South and a spirit of White reconciliation characterized much of the spirit of public discourse between North and South. A month after the Chapel Hill ceremony, Confederate veterans (including several Chapel Hill speakers) would gather at Gettysburg with their former combatants in one of the most public statements of shifting regional sentiments and White reconciliation.

Last week that Chapel Hill monument was toppled during a protest, and activism to remove the monument reveals some familiar divides over Confederate material heritage while it reflects the distinctive 21st-century contours of that discourse. On the one hand, the discussion in Chapel Hill illuminates how digitized historical data has shaped an increasingly well-informed discourse over the Confederacy’s memorial landscape. We know an enormous amount about the men and women who spearheaded the movement to erect the Chapel Hill memorial as well as the history of the monument space in the subsequent century, primarily because of the UNC Archives’ thorough documentation of the monument’s heritage. On the other hand, much of the defense of such monuments remains firmly committed to the same neo-Confederate ideology that was hatched in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, and the University and many of North Carolina’s highest elected officials have been reluctant if not militantly resistant to uprooting the monument.

Julian S. Carr is second from the left in this group at a November, 1923 event.

There is nothing especially unique about the ideologues who supported the erection of the Silent Sam statue. However, a century later the most jarring comments uttered at the dedication are those of Julian Shakespeare Carr, whose speech has been consistently invoked by activists advocating for the removal of Silent Sam and many other Confederate monuments. Like his fellow 1913 dedication speaker Henry Armand London, Carr had been a North Carolina student when the Civil War broke out, and Carr enlisted in the 3rd North Carolina Confederate Cavalry in 1864. Carr became an enormously wealthy industrialist after the war, and he donated liberally to Universities (including UNC), ministerial missions, and Confederate causes (e.g., veteran’s hospitals) while speaking tirelessly on behalf of the United Confederate Veterans after its formation in 1889. He delivered speeches at numerous Confederate memorial dedications, and he even appeared at the 1922 dedication of a Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington.

None of his speaking appearances has secured Carr as much visibility today as his 1913 speech at the Chapel Hill memorial dedication. In the midst of a voluminous 16-page speech, Carr casually mentioned that “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomatox [sic], I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterward slept with a double-barreled shotgun under my head.”

A circa 1940-1960 image of the UNC Confederate Monument.

There is no record of how his audience responded to Carr’s story of racist violence, and it passed without comment for nearly a century. In 1993 Walter B. Weare cited the shocking story in his study Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Carr’s speech was quoted in Leslie Brown’s 2008 study Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South. The speech became part of Silent Sam activism in 2011 when graduate student Adam Domby shared the quote in a letter to the editors of UNC’s The Daily Tar Heel. That letter contemplating the removal of Silent Sam significantly shaped how many activists painted Confederate memorialists in general and Julian Carr in particular.

Like many Southerners, Carr’s persistent racism stood somewhat at odds with his periodic advocacy for African American entrepreneurial, educational, and religious ventures. In about 1879, for instance, Carr agreed to fund the University training of William Gaston Pearson, a former captive working in Carr’s factory, and Gaston graduated from Shaw University in 1886. Carr provided funding to a variety of African American entrepreneurial ventures; he supported the families of African American soldiers during the Spanish-American War; and in 1909, Carr became Treasurer for the Trustee Board of the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, an African American school in Durham.

Yet his paternalism for Black neighbors could not conceal his support for White supremacy in a biracial New South. In 1899, for instance, Carr spoke at the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race in Greensboro, North Carolina (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University), with Raleigh’s The Farmer and Mechanic suggesting the invitation came “because of his well-known friendliness to the negro and because his benefactions and good advice have given him the confidence of the race.” Carr told his audience that the solution to lynchings “lies with the Negro,” arguing that “If the negro will make everlasting war upon the brute element of his race, until the indefensible and unpardonable crime of rape is stamped out, then the cause being removed, there will be no effect.” Carr suggested that “the question of the future of the Southern negro is one that must be deferred for settlement until we have restored safety and a feeling of security to the humblest woman in the poorest cabin in the remotest corner of the most thinly settled portion of the South. The Southern white man cannot restore that security. He can help the enforcement of the law, but as the loss of the sense of safety did not come through him, he cannot restore it. That is the mission of the leaders of the negro race.”

Carr argued against African American suffrage in his Greensboro speech, and in the same year he was counseling African Americans in Greensboro to eliminate their “brute element,” he was lobbying for a Constitutional Amendment that would severely restrict African American voting rights. Carr lamented that as “terrible” as defeat had been to the former Confederacy, it was “not comparable to crime of vesting eight millions [sic] of ignorant vicious colored people with the franchise. … the civilized world has already been forced to acknowledge that the act was worse than a mistake—it was a crime.” Carr’s advocacy for seizing the vote from African Americans was accompanied by raw paternalistic racism that would dot the hundreds of lectures he delivered into the 1920s. In 1909, for instance, Carr argued that “I believe that slavery was a Divine institution. … The bringing of the ignorant Africans to these shores, was a part of God’s plan to evangelize the world.”

In 1923 the elderly Carr was retiring as Commander in Chief of the United Confederate Veterans, and at the New Orleans convention the new officers were openly Ku Klux Klan members. Carr’s sentiments on the Klan became clear when the convention discussed the implications of the term “rebel” and Carr rose to exclaim “’I am a rebel, and a Ku Klux too.’” Carr’s sympathies to the hooded order are not surprising, and he had proudly confessed his allegiance to the Klan earlier in his life. In October, 1908 a Raleigh newspaper reported on a speech by a former Judge that “denounced with great vigor the Ku-Klux Klan.” The paper indicated that “Such brave soldiers as General Julian S. Carr, Major Robert Bingham and others publicly condemned the attacked upon the Ku-Klux.” Raleigh’s The Farmer and Mechanic reported that Carr “expressed himself very plainly in Raleigh this week … ‘I was a Ku Klux,’ he said, `and I am not ashamed of it’” (also noted in Raleigh’s The News and Observer).

A 1943 postcard view of the Monument.

Carr would remain a mouthpiece for standard neo-Confederate historicizing the rest of his life. In a 1915 speech in Richmond, Carr marched through all the standard talking points of Confederate revisionist histories: he proclaimed “the Southern people were neither rebels nor traitors”; slavery at the South was the gentlest and the most beneficent servitude mankind has ever known”; “Lee’s army was constituted largely of Southern gentlemen”;  and “Notwithstanding their overwhelming superiority in numbers, in resources, in equipment, in supplies of every description, the South was not beaten on the field, for it was the blockade of Southern ports that forced the surrender.” Carr also entertained romantic memories of enslavement and the sense of duty and affinity he believed captives felt for the people who owned them. For example, in 1919 Carr told a Methodist group in Columbus, Ohio that “I am greatly in love with the civilization that obtained in the Old South prior to the Civil War. My father was a slave-owner –and I remember how we of the South went forth to battle, with what confidence we committed our dear ones and our homes to the watchful care of our slaves and we were never disappointed.”

Two months after Carr proudly proclaimed his Klan affiliation at the United Confederate Veterans convention, the University of North Carolina awarded him an honorary degree “for his versatile services to the State and University, and the crowd responded to his recognition with thunderous applause.” In April, 1924 Carr died on a trip to Chicago, with the 78-year-old’s funeral coming in Durham a week later. The hagiography of Carr routinely celebrated him as a philanthropist, with Confederate Veteran rhapsodizing that “though he amassed wealth, he did not die rich, for he gave away even as he gathered.” The Atlanta Constitution celebrated that Carr “gave lavishly to colleges and universities, white and colored. … He contributed to the building of churches, libraries, memorial halls, and was known throughout the south as a philanthropist of the most liberal and unselfish type.” That implication that Carr had supported African American philanthropic causes and been a loyal ally to the community became a staple of Carr’s mourners. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported on May 1st that “The colored people of the city [Durham] immediately upon learning of the death passed resolutions of sorrow. General Carr was greatly beloved by the negroes of the community. He had ever been their friend and champion, and he had won their undying love and admiration.” Reporting on Carr’s funeral four days later, the Asheville newspaper again suggested he had enjoyed a broad circle of Black friends, indicating that “Many negroes attended the funeral, bespeaking eloquently of the service the deceased has rendered for the colored population of the city.”

In April, 1968 the UNC Monument was the target of graffiti following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the first public calls for the removal of Silent Sam came in March 1965, when a letter to the Daily Tar Heel advocated the removal of the monument. Al Ribak wrote that “The primary purpose of, the `memorial’ was to associate a fictitious `honor’ with the darkest blot on American history, the fight of southern racists to keep the Negro peoples in a position of debased subservience. … the existence on the UNC campus of a monument to men who were militant white supremists and extremists of the worst kind is no less an affront to the Negro peoples and the intelligentsia than is the gaudy Confederate flag flying from the lily-white dome of Alabama’s capitol.” Two days later one respondent complained that “Ribak is trying to shame my ancestors for fighting for what they believed in,” while others raised arguments still used by Confederate defenders: e.g., one reader suggested that “The idea that Negro slavery was the main issue of the war is absurd. General Lee was as strongly against slavery as was Abraham Lincoln, and General Sherman as strong a believer in it as was any Southerner. In fact, such great men as Adams, Jefferson, and Washington owned slaves, are we to tear down our monuments to them? The monument is not to `militant white supremists and extremists,’ but to brave men.”

In 1970 the monument was clothed in Klan robes with a Confederate flag that includes a swastika.

In 1990 The Daily Tar Heel championed removing the monument because “First, the statue is racist because it commemorates the Confederate soldiers who fought for states’ rights and their ability to legalize slavery. Second, the statue promotes sexism with the legend that Sam’s gun (which has been silent for years) goes off every time a virgin goes by.” In 2003 faculty member Gerald C. Horne observed that “we are routinely told that the reason monuments to the thankfully departed Confederate States of America litter the landscape, including the centerpiece of this campus, i.e. `Silent Sam,’ is because this is merely a monument to history and that depositing this monstrosity where it belongs in the nearest museum would be like stowing away history.” Horne observed that Iraqis were rapidly toppling monuments to Saddam Hussein at that very moment, yet “where are the voices from this campus bellowing in outrage against Iraqis `destroying their history’ by destroying statues of their erstwhile leader?”

In 1997 UNC housekeeper Elaine Massey protested at the Confederate Monument during a Martin Luther King Day rally

Julian Carr’s raw 1913 dedication quote figured prominently in increasingly divisive discussions about the Chapel Hill monument. In 2012, for instance, the Real Silent Sam Coalition used Carr’s words to stress to the UNC administration that the “statue stands at the gateway to our university as an unwelcoming ambassador to many faculty, employees, students, and visitors. The absence of information about the context in which the statue was erected contributes to a problematic social amnesia regarding our past, its ramifications in the present, and its lessons for the future.” Yet in the wake of the monument’s toppling last week the University has continued to argue that it could not legally remove the monument (the University interprets a 2015 North Carolina law as protection for the Chapel Hill Confederate memorial). UNC Professor Malinda Lowery wrote on behalf of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South on August 20th and called the statue “a toxic symbol.” A day later, “Silent Sam” came down, moving a North Carolina State Representative to complain that “We need to stop being cowards in the face of political correctness,” adding that “If we don’t stand up and put a stop to this mob rule, it could lead to an actual civil war.” One member of the UNC Board of Governors warned that “Silent Sam Will Be Reinstalled as Required by State Law WITHIN 90 Days. Criminals who destroyed state property at UNC and police who did nothing will be held accountable” (he has detailed his complaints on YouTube). Meanwhile, Carr’s dark philanthropic shadow reaches beyond the UNC campus: Carr was a major donor to Duke University when it was known as Trinity College, and Duke has been contemplating re-naming its History department building named for Carr. A Washington Post article on Duke’s consideration of renaming the building used the 1913 dedication speech quote.

Activist graffiti has consistently been placed on and then removed from the monument, including this episode in 2015.

Monuments are appealing material things for ideologues because they masquerade as timeless public expressions of an objective history. Nevertheless, statues inevitably express particular social and political perspectives that a community may subsequently embrace, dispute, or wholly disown, and in Chapel Hill Julian Carr’s 1913 speech makes it difficult to ignore the sentiments he and his peers openly embraced. A century later it is difficult to fathom that the Chapel Hill monument was not intended to be a timeless public testament to the anti-Black racism of unrepentant Confederates like Julian Carr. There is an enormously rich digital history of these men and women who aspired to celebrate the Confederacy’s heritage, and it is increasingly difficult to ignore the record of raw racism so many of them left for posterity.

 

Images

Undated color postcard image of UNC Confederate Monument, Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

Confederate Memorial postcard, circa 1943 Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Confederate Memorial circa 1940-1960, Samuel M. Boone Photographs #P0084, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Confederate Memorial graffiti April 8, 1968, Hugh Morton Photographs and Films #P0081, copyright 1968, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

Confederate Memorial in Klan robes, 1970Yackety Yack, 1970

Confederate Memorial Martin Luther King rally 1997, John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Confederate Memorial cleaning 2015, The Daily Tar Heel, July 8, 2015.

Julian Carr, November 23, 1923, National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

 

References

Amanda M. Black and Andrea F. Bohlman

2017 Resounding the Campus: Pedagogy, Race, and the Environment. Journal of Music History Pedagogy 8(1): 6-27.

 

W. Fitzhugh Brundage

2018 Exclusion, inclusion, and the politics of Confederate commemoration in the American South. Politics, Groups, and Identities 6(2): 324-330.

 

Dell Upton

2015 What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South. Yale University press, New Haven, CT.

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Gates, Place, and Urban Heritage

The most prominent “gateway” to campus will be a 52″-tall column at the corner of West and Michigan Streets that is expected to be in place in Fall 2018 (click for a larger view).

This week Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) celebrated the impending construction of five “gateways” to campus, architectural features designed to identify the campus boundaries as students, staff, and visitors enter the near-Westside university. The most prominent gateway will be at West and Michigan Streets, a 52′-tall limestone and steel monolith that will be lit at night and be neighbored two blocks south by a more modest marker at New York and West Streets. Alongside these gateways a “series of landscape mounds along West Street between the two gateway markers also will visually distinguish the campus from the surrounding city.” This exercise in placemaking takes its aesthetic inspiration from the campus itself, invoking the architectural forms of the University Library (designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, completed in 1994), Campus Center (SmithGroup JJR, 2008), and Eskenazi Hall (Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, 2005). The gateways aspire to fashion a material landscape stylistically consistent with these existing buildings, though the media coverage of the gateways has featured the sheer scale of the monoliths, which are “large enough to be seen from an airplane.” Chancellor Nasser Paydar exalted that “anyone on a plane approaching Indianapolis, we want them to see this is how proud they are with this campus.” Read the rest of this entry

Visualizing Racism: The Trauma of Lynching Photography

On April 29, 1915 The Tampa Morning Tribune was one of scores of national papers to report on the lynching of Tom Brooks.

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).

The names of lynching victims are engraved in steel columns at the Memorial for Peace and Justice.

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”). Read the rest of this entry

The Ruins of Rebellion: Absence on the Confederate Memorial Landscape

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)

The plinth for Baltimore’s Confederate Women’s Memorial, which was removed in August, 2017 (image BalPhoto).

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. Read the rest of this entry

Preserving Traveller

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.

Lee aboard Traveller after the Civil War

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

Color and Conformity: Race and Integration in the Suburbs

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.

Reginald Bruce appeared in the August 19, 1944 Indianapolis Recorder (click for expanded view).

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.

A 1955 image illustrated the ideological vision of a typical suburban family (Getty images).

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

Race, Reconciliation, and Southern Memorialization in Garfield Park

The Confederate Monument in Garfield Park today.

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

Memory, Monuments, and Confederate Things: Contesting the 21st-Century Confederacy

Phoenix’s 1961 Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops (click for larger image, from Visitor7/wikimedia).

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.

The earliest Confederate monuments were located in cemeteries and included this 1869 90-foot high memorial to the 18,000 Confederates buried in Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery (author’s image).

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.

Dedicated in September, 1867, this Romney, West Virginia monument was one of the nation’s first Confederate memorials (Justin A. Wilcox/wikimedia).

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

The Aesthetics of Bliss and Trauma in Plantation Weddings

The Flossenbürg camp landscape today (click on all images for larger view).

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.

The ruins of Flossenbürg Castle viewed from the village (image Nikater).

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

Memorializing Uncanny Histories: Materiality and Memory at Pulse

Pulse nightclub August 2016 (click for expanded view; image Walter).

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.

Offerings at the Pulse memorial (click for expanded view; image Walter).

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