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Visual Memory and Urban Displacement

Ralph Louis Temple’s 1940’s painting of Minerva Street;click for a larger image (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Around World War II artist Ralph Louis Temple painted a series of oil studies of his Indianapolis neighborhood. Temple’s family had lived on Minerva Street since 1866, when Ralph’s great grandfather Carter Temple Sr. came to the Circle City. Ralph Temple’s painting featured the double at 546-548 Minerva Street, the neighboring corner home at 550 Minerva, and William D. McCoy Public School 24 in the background along North Street. Carter Temple Jr.’s granddaughter Cecelia was still living in the home at 550 Minerva Street in 1978, the last of a century of Temple family to live on Minerva Street. Her brother Ralph’s paintings of the neighborhood cast it in a quite different light than the dominant rhetoric and imagery that aspired to displace families like the Temples.

The house at 550 Minerva Street in the late-1970’s (Indiana Landmarks Central Canal & IUPUI Image Collection).

There are numerous images of the neighborhood in the postwar period, when it was one of many historically African-American urban communities that were gradually being displaced by a host of renewal schemes. The Temples’ home for more than a century would fall to the wrecking ball when Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI) was expanding in the late 1970’s. The city of Indianapolis was simultaneously razing a host of businesses along Indiana Avenue, and in the 1960’s the interstate was being constructed through the predominately African-American near-Westside while it sliced through much of the eastside and southside as well. As blocks of buildings fell along Indiana Avenue in the 1970’s the city also lobbied for the demolition of Lockefield Gardens, which closed in 1976. Lockefield was a segregated Public Works Administration community that opened in 1938 across the street from 550 Minerva Street, with School 24 in its midst. In July, 1983 demolition finally removed all but seven of the original Lockefield buildings.

Like numerous postwar American urban campuses, the neighborhood now lingers only in memory, with the Minerva Street homes falling to the wrecking ball in about 1980. Photographers documented much of the neighborhood in the postwar period, but the vast majority of those images were predictably ideological representations of the predominately African-American community: some images were in service to slum clearance programs by the state and university; others attempted to preserve a visual record of the neighborhood’s historic architecture; and a flood of subsequent images by the University documented the new campus that rose in the wake of mass clearances. In contrast, Ralph Temple’s painting, his family’s photographs, and their century-long story captured a much different imagination of the African-American near-Westside. Nevertheless, such African-American visual and historical representations of Indianapolis’ near-Westside are often ignored because of a deep-seated assumption that the neighborhood was a materially impoverished place.

Carr Hopkins’ 1863 enlistment in the United States Colored Troops.

Carter Temple Sr. was born in Virginia in about 1811 and came to Indianapolis immediately after the Civil War. Temple probably had been enslaved in Kentucky prior to Emancipation, and he settled on Minerva Street in about 1866. His son known as Carr Hopkins was born into captivity in Kentucky in 1843, and when he was freed in 1863 he volunteered for the 14th Regiment Company C of the United States Colored Troops in November, 1863 in Gallatin, Tennessee. He was appointed Corporal in April, 1864 before mustering out in March, 1866. Hopkins joined his father in Indianapolis and began to go by the name Carter Temple, Jr., using it as his name on his 1871 marriage license and on his military pension, which identified Hopkins as an alias for Carter Temple Jr.

Carter Temple Jr. posed for this undated image after he joined the Indianapolis Police Department in May, 1876.

In 1870 Carter Temple Sr. was living on Minerva Street working as a carpenter, and a year later his son Carter Temple Jr. was married in Indianapolis. In May, 1876 Carter Temple Jr. became one of the first four African-American police officers in Indianapolis, with the Indianapolis News reporting that “[Sim] Hart, [Benjamin] Young, [Carter] Temple and [William] Whittaker, the colored police appointees, were signed to Ward’s division Saturday night … . These men will do service among the Bucktownites” (Bucktown was a term often used to refer to the African-American near-Westside). In 1889 Indianapolis’ African-American newspaper The Freeman reported that the Indianapolis Police Department had six African-American officers, and “Carter Temple, who everybody knows and respects, joined the force in ’76 and has remained on ever since. He is a Kentuckian, but has lived here since ’65. He owns a good home and has an interesting family. He is one of the finest specimens of physical manhood on the force, standing fully over six feet and weighing over 200 pounds.” Temple served until he was struck by a street car in a 1900 election day accident.

In 1888 Temple Carter Sr. died, leaving his estate to his wife Amanda. Among the people receiving benefits in the will was his son Frederick Hopkins, who was a police officer living in Vicksburg, Mississippi. When Hopkins himself died in 1898 The Vicksburg Herald indicated that Hopkins “was one of the few colored men who drew a pension for services on the Confederate side from the State appropriations.” Hopkins probably was enslaved by a Confederate soldier and traveling with the rebel army as a captive. Mississippi was unique for sponsoring a pension program beginning in 1888 that extended benefits to African Americans as well as former Confederate foot soldiers.

By the time of Carter Temple, Sr.’s death many of his relatives were living along Minerva Street. They included his son George W. Temple, who began a career as an actor, musician, and comedian in about 1880. George was among the city’s earliest generation of African-American performers. African Americans had sporadically performed to White Indianapolis audiences since the Civil War. Brooker’s Georgia Minstrels was probably the first African-American managed troupe to perform in Indianapolis, with the self-described “simon pure Ethiopians” playing three nights in August, 1865 at the Masonic Hall. An African-American theatre and musical performance tradition had emerged in the wake of Emancipation, but in 1880 only one African American in Indianapolis appeared in the census as a musician, and George Temple was the only Black actor.

At the turn of the century nearly all of the city’s African-American musicians were in traveling troupes that performed throughout the country, which certainly included George Temple. In 1907 the Indianapolis Recorder noted that “George Temple, the famous comedian, is off the road and is preparing to give ’`Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ here in the City.” Like many turn of the century performers, Temple apparently performed “In an old-time cake-walk at Tomlinson Hall,” with the Indianapolis Star reporting in 1909 that “Wesley Thurman and George Temple, who essayed a woman’s role, were close competitors for the large white cake and a $25 prize.” The “woman’s role” indicates that Temple was performing dressed as a woman, a staple of both White and Black theatrical comedy in the late-19th century. After about 40 years of performing, Temple probably toured with Harvey’s Greater Minstrels, a 40-50 person African-American ensemble that played throughout the country and Canada between about 1918 and 1925.

In 1920, George and Edmonia Temple’s sons George Isaac and Walter Temple were both working as musicians. George I. Temple was probably playing with Harry Farley’s orchestra around 1920, and the Batesville Indiana newspaper described “Harry Farley’s Garden Park colored jazz band, of Indianapolis, the grandest colored jazz band in the Middle West. Hear them sing and see them dance—the greatest endurance orchestra in America.” In the 1920s the family moved to New York City where George and Walter joined their parents and were working as orchestra musicians. George Isaac Temple married Fredonia Stewart in 1928 and lived with her in New York until 1949. Stewart’s family had established and owned the Indianapolis Recorder, and after moving back to the Circle City she co-owned the newspaper for 36 years while George would work as an advertising manager.

In the late 1920’s, Carter Temple (left) and Ralph Temple (right) posed in a car parked on North Street, with McCoy School in the background (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

The family had a distinguished record of military service beginning with Carter Temple Jr.’s service in the Civil War. In 1898 his son Carter Frederick Patton Temple became the second generation to serve in the military when he served in the Spanish-American War. Born at 544 Minerva Street in 1879, Carter FP Temple would live on Minerva Street until his death in 1941, when he was living a few doors away at 550 Minerva. Carter FP Temple became an Indianapolis police officer in 1900, but he resigned a year later and spent the remainder of his career working in construction and served in the Indianapolis Street Commissioner’s Department. Temple and his second wife Lucy Paris Temple had 11 children. One son died as an infant in 1930, but the remaining 10 grew up on Minerva Street, including three sons who served in World War II. Arthur Temple and his brother Carter Paris Temple both served in the Navy, and Ralph served in the Army.

In August, 1942 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported on Ralph Temple’s painting in St. Phillip’s Church in Indianapolis.

Ralph Louis Temple was the sixth of the eleven children born to Carter FP Temple and Lucy Paris Temple. Born in 1922, Ralph graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in July, 1940, indicating his hobby was painting. In August 1942 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported that Ralph painted “a mural of the Last Supper” in Indianapolis’ St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (the 702 Martin Luther King, Jr. Street church was razed in the 1970s). The newspaper reported that Temple “is a student at the John Herron Art Institute. He is an Assistant Scout Master, a swimming instructor at the YMCA, and a teacher in the Saturday morning art classes of the YMCA.”

An undated image of Ralph Temple painting (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Temple had not finished his Herron training in January, 1943 when he enlisted in the military. Temple was stationed initially at Mississippi’s Greenwood Army Air Field, where the The Greenwood Commonwealth reported that Temple painted a “colorfully descriptive mural, entitled `A Soldier Dreams of the Duration.’” The newspaper reported that “Muralist Temple’s dreaming soldier sees Pearl Harbor avenged, the suffering of allied soldiers, return of the soldier to `home sweet home,’ and an ultar-modern [sic] postwar world.” Temple told the newspaper that “`I’ve been painting ever since I was old enough to hold a brush,’ says the quiet corporal. `When I was small I used to drive my mother nearly crazy by painting all over the walls, starting at the bottom of the stairecase [sic] and working up. Mother thought there might be method in my madness and she never discouraged me.’” In April, 1944 the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Temple had executed a bas relief of the European theatre at the base with the motto “Not just the best trained soldier in the world, or the best equipped, but the best informed soldier in the world.’’

Ralph, Jane, and Carter Temple (left to right) posed for a picture on the bumper of a car on North Street in the late 1920’s (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Ralph was living at 550 Minerva Street and identified as a student between 1949 and 1951, when he may have been completing his Herron coursework. He appears to have left Indianapolis in late 1952 or 1953 for New York, and he was living in Manhattan in 1957. Ralph lived in New York for the rest of his life, passing away there in 2011. Much of his family continued to live on Minerva Street into the 1960’s. In 1960 Carter FP Temple’s widow Lucy was living at 550 Minerva Street with her daughters Cecilia and Jane. Jane worked in a neighborhood institution, Berky’s Market, which opened on West Michigan Street in August, 1948. Max Berkowitz had operated a meat market on Indiana Avenue beginning in 1928, and Jane probably began to work in Berky’s from the time it opened. She would work for Berky’s until 1960, when she began working at Western Electric and moved to West 28th Street.

Cecilia and Lucy were still living in the home in 1970, by when IUPUI had opened just two blocks south of their home. The Indiana University Hospital had been acquiring property around the former City Hospital since the 1920’s, and by the early 1960’s Indiana University was acquiring properties for the undergraduate institution that became IUPUI. In 1978 Lucy and Cecilia Temple appeared in the city directory at 550 Minerva Street for the final time. Lucy Paris Temple had been living in the home since the eve of World War I, but in about 1979 she was compelled to move out of the 550 Minerva Street home to a northwestern Indianapolis suburb, where she died in 1984. In 2017, her son Robert Ricardo Temple died, the last of her 10 children who had lived to adulthood.

Photographs of the neighborhood after 1960 tended to support the notion that the community was a universal “slum,” less a visual description of the neighborhood than an ideological rationalization for the displacement of its residents. A photographer took pictures of 550 Minerva Street sometime around the moment the last Temples moved out of the home, and it remained a sound structure, but the University was intent on securing the properties along Minerva Street, which would be the heart of the IUPUI campus. After the Temple home was razed, the Lincoln Hotel and University Conference Center opened in the same space in July, 1987 for the Pan-American Games; when the Lincoln firm went bankrupt five months later the hotel began to be referred to as the University Place Executive Conference Center and Hotel, and it is today known as University Tower. The North Street doors to the building stand where the Temples’ home sat for more than a century.

 

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550 Minerva Street image courtesy Indiana Landmarks Central Canal & IUPUI Image Collection

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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. Read the rest of this entry

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