Blog Archives

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.

Advertisements

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

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 Triumph of Tackiness: The Materiality of Trump

This room in the Trump penthouse includes a statue of Eros and Psyche, a painting of Apollo in his chariot, and Barron Trump's motorized Mercedes.

This room in the Trump penthouse includes a statue of Eros and Psyche, a painting of Apollo in his chariot, and Barron Trump’s motorized Mercedes.

It has become commonplace to ridicule Donald Trump as “tacky” and dismiss his material style as clumsy excess, a crass display of wealth, or a complete absence of “good taste.”  For instance, in 2015 the National Review’s Kevin Williamson called the newly declared Presidential candidate a “ridiculous buffoon with the worst taste since Caligula.”  Williamson illustrated Trump’s taste with pictures of his densely gilded Manhattan penthouse replete with simulated classical aesthetics, Louis XIV furnishings, and a motorized toy Mercedes 10-year-old son Barron has outgrown.  In 2012 refinery29 interviewed Trump’s wife Melania and somewhat more kindly indicated that the penthouse had “over-the-top surroundings that might make Liberace blush.”  A host of anxious observers fret that the new President will gut the White House with a similar ocean of gilding, marble, and haphazardly assembled historical themes.  In the wake of Trump’s unlikely victory, The Mirror predicted a White House festooned with “gold cherubs, reproduction Renoirs—or a print of Melania naked on a rug from her GQ lads mag shoot”; in a similar vein, the New York Daily News predicted “gaudy gold décor and tacky touches.” Read the rest of this entry

Spacious Vulgarity: The Aesthetics and Morals of McMansions

This Washington DC home features a massive garage and an ecelctic mix of oversized architectural features typical of McMansions (image DC Urban Mom).

This Washington DC home features a massive garage and an eclectic mix of oversized architectural features typical of McMansions (image DC Urban Mom).

Few architectural forms seem to secure as much overwrought disdain as the massive homes that are often referred to as “McMansions.”  Architectural aesthetes have a rich history of attacking built environments that spark deep-seated aesthetic and social revulsion, and over-sized 21st-century homes have become targets of comparable critique.  Critics of massive residential homes often lament departures from stylistic codes, which typically includes tract mansions’ massive scale, asymmetrical forms, lack of proportionality, inferior materials, and departures from established historical or local architectural distinctions.  However, such analyses routinely descend into ethnographically shallow social and class commentaries that fail to wrestle with our inchoate aversion for this particular material form.  It is indeed hard to fathom the attraction of many oversized residences, and it is unreasonable to simply ignore our emotional revulsion for them; nevertheless, a compelling assessment of McMansions–and reflective urban planning–should sympathetically wrestle with our experiences of these structures.

McMansion Hell is among the legion of observers ridiculing massive “garage Mahals” and “starter mansions.”  McMansion Hell is distinguished by its concrete architectural analysis of oversized residences, spending much of its energy dissecting specific material elements of the pejorative McMansion.  This is in some ways an archaeological approach to a class of material things, revolving around systematic material description of specific architectural features that unsettle many observers.  McMansion Hell does not try to stake a claim to contrived objectivity, instead acknowledging its aversion for massive residences, sarcastically deconstructing a host of aesthetic features, and painting a very distinctive social and material notion of the stylistic if not social deplorability of tract mansions.  However, it focuses on the stylistic dimensions of “bad” architecture and does not feature especially clear ethnographic evidence that might interrogate both the appeal of McMansions and the widespread distaste for them. Read the rest of this entry

Abhorrent Bodies: Burying Evil

Rudolf Hess' grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011 .

Rudolf Hess’ grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011.

The Wal-Hamdu-Lillah Cemetery hails itself as California’s first Islamic cemetery, a 20-acre mortuary and burial ground established in 1998.  The cemetery adheres to Sharia burial rites, which include the ritual washing of the corpse, shrouding of the body, and burial without a casket, usually with little or no burial markers.  In January it was confirmed that the more than 1000 people buried in Wal-Hamdu-Lillah include Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, fundamentalist extremists who killed 14 people in a December 2015 attack in San Bernadino.  The two were themselves killed hours after their attack, and it apparently took a week to find an Islamic cemetery that would accept their remains.  Local observers soon suspected that the killers were interred in the cemetery in Rosamond, and the Mayor of neighboring Lancaster theatrically directed his City Attorney to prepare legislation that would outlaw the local burial of participants in terrorist acts.  The anxiety sparked by the couple’s burial reflects their status among the most repugnant of the dead, people so evil that their physical remains threaten our common values after their death.  Such figures’ literal corporeal remains hold a persistent grip on our collective anxiety, their memories firmly planted in heritage discourses even as we attempt to efface their human remains from the landscape. Read the rest of this entry

African-American Heritage in the Post-Renewal City

Bethel AME Church

Bethel AME Church

In the wake of World War II planners, developers, and elected officials spearheaded urban renewal projects that transformed Indianapolis, Indiana’s material landscape and depopulated its central core.  Yet over the last 20 years the descendants of those ideologues have been gradually repopulating the Indiana capital city’s core and constructing a historicized landscape on the ruins of the post-renewal city.  A relatively similar story could be told in nearly all of postwar America, where urban renewal, the “war on poverty,” and a host of local schemes displaced legions of poor and working-class people.  Some creatively re-purposed structures have survived urban renewal in Indianapolis, but much of the near-Westside’s historical landscape has been erased, remains under fire, or only survives in radically new forms.  It may be pragmatic (or unavoidable) to accept such a transformation of the historical landscape, but urban renewal’s material effacement of the African-American near-Westside—and the way it is now reconstructed or evoked on the contemporary landscape–inevitably will transform how that heritage is experienced.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The most recent target in Indianapolis is Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which has sat on West Vermont Street since the congregation purchased the lot in 1869.  The congregation’s origins in Indianapolis reach to 1836, and the church members were vocal abolition supporters and orchestrated movement through Indianapolis on the Underground Railroad.  Bethel was among the African-American city’s most prominent institutions, hosting myriad people for worship, leisure, education, and activism alike: in 1870, residents gathered in the church to celebrate the passing of the 15th Amendment (securing African-American voting rights); in 1904 the first meeting of Indiana’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs was held at Bethel; in 1926 African Americans gathered at Bethel to protest a wave of segregation laws reaching from racist neighborhood covenants to high school segregation; and neighborhood residents gathered at Bethel throughout the civil rights movement. Read the rest of this entry

Repressing Repugnant Heritage: Place, Race, and Memory in Shockoe Bottom

lumpkin-jail dig

Excavations at Lumpkin’s Jail in Shockoe Bottom (image James River Institute for Archaeology)

Richmond, Virginia’s Shockoe Bottom is on first glance a prosaic if not unappealing void.  The checkerboard of parking lots and deteriorating buildings became home to a farmer’s market along Shockoe Creek in the 18th century: the core of Richmond’s earliest urban plan, Shockoe Bottom’s 17th Street marketplace was ringed by food wholesalers, Tobacco Row warehouses, restaurants, manufacturing, Main Street Station, and residences, including the city’s oldest surviving structure, the circa 1740 Old Stone House now home to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.  But much of the farmer’s market business has declined and food wholesaling transformed since World War II; in 1958 the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (Interstate 95) sliced through the middle of Shockoe Bottom; the cigarette companies abandoned Tobacco Row in the 1970s; and most trains stopped running in 1975. Read the rest of this entry

Imagining Holiday Odors

Our memories and experiences of the holidays are profoundly accented by scent: the fragrance of baking cookies, the pungent scent of pine trees, and the distinctive whiff of our family members’ homes are among many peoples’ strongest sensory memories.  Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past described a rush of “involuntary memory” incited by the scent and taste of a madeleine, painting a picture of sensations that provoke emotionally rich recollections.  Countless web pages provide directions for simmering water jars, stove top concoctions, and homemade potpourri that will make your home smell like a Yuletide wonderland.  For those of us too impatient to boil star anise, orange slices, and cinnamon sticks, an enormous industry caters to consumers’ sensory imagination, selling us smells that fortify our own clouds of pumpkin pie and turkey: numerous marketers hawk familiar scents like evergreen or vanilla, but many like American mall behemoth Yankee Candle sell fantasy scents, with Angel’s Wings, Cozy by the Fire, Winter Glow, and Cat’s Whiskers among its 2015 holiday fragrances.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Christmas is an especially lucrative time of year to sell scents.  In 2012 Yankee Candle’s European Managing Director championed holiday scents when he said “imagine Christmas without all the wonderful scents it comes with, and you’ll understand why home fragrance is so important at this time of year.”  Perhaps the most distinctive entrant in the holiday consumer scentscape is the Poo-Pourri toilet spray.  Poo-Pourri has sold over 10 million bottles of its’ “before you go” toilet spray, which promises that its natural oils will eliminate your foul bathroom cloud before it becomes part of your Yuletide sensory memories.   Poo-Pourri concedes that the fragrances of the holidays inevitably include the unavoidable intestinal impact of Grandma’s butter-laden sweet potatoes.  The toilet spray’s elevated holiday sales suggest that at least some of us are self-conscious that our young relatives’ memories of Christmas fragrances will involve pine trees, Yankee Candle vanilla, and the unmistakable post-digestive cloud that will forever be associated with you.  Rather than have your friends and family remember you as a malodorous Chewbacca, Poo-Pourri promises you’ll instead be associated with the English garden scent you always left in the holiday potty. Read the rest of this entry

“Our Succulent Middle Class”: African-American Country Clubs and the Black Bourgeoisie

Sportsmans Golf July 18 1970

In July, 1970 Sportsman’s Club supporter and pro football player Leroy Kelly joined a group of golfers at the club’s nine-hole course.

In April, 1969 James Saint Clair Gibson reported on the opening of the Sportsman’s Club, a country club being built by African-American investors in the city’s northwestern suburbs.  Gibson contributed columns to the Indianapolis Recorder from 1936 until his death in 1978, often writing under his pen name of “The Saint” and dispensing acerbic commentary about life in African-American Indianapolis.  Gibson’s report on the Sportsman’s Club  inventoried its promised offerings of swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf links, but Gibson could not pass up a comment on the club’s apparent exclusivity, observing that memberships cost “$$$$ (hundreds) per year, and according to what we hear—they are being gobbled up right and left by our succulent (?) middle-class.”

The Sportsman’s Club aspired to provide a cross-class, multiethnic social club.  However, Gibson perhaps captured his readership’s wariness of exclusive country clubs, which were segregated along class lines and had historically been places where African Americans performed service labor.  The caricature of White hyper-wealthy clubs may have made the notion of a predominately Black club seem especially archaic at a moment when many once-segregated citizen rights were being transformed.  Perhaps the most unsettling implication was that the club illuminated the reaches of American life that remained utterly segregated.  Country clubs would indeed be one of the last bastions of segregation long after other spaces and citizen rights were effectively integrated. Read the rest of this entry