The Racist Legacy of Many Confederate Monuments

“Silent Sam” isn’t the only one.

Charlotte, North Carolina has this confederate monument:

Note: “Accepting the arbitrament of war, they preserved the Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South, and became master builders in a re-united country.” What this says is after the Civil War, confederate veterans across the South were white supremacist terrorists, and it celebrates them for that. It celebrates them for murdering, raping, and whipping African Americans and white Republicans all over the South.

Virginia Commonwealth University has a confederate monument dedicated to the “Richmond Howitzers,” a confederate artillery battalion.

One of the speeches at its dedication was delivered by Leigh Robinson, a veteran of the battalion. In that speech he defended slavery. “Slavery in the South rested upon the natural supremacy of the white race over the black, and the total and inevitable disqualification of the latter for an equal struggle with the former. Labor in the South, unlike Oriental bondage, Roman servitude, and feudal village, was not the subjection of equals, differing in opportunity, but the subjection of one extreme of humanity to the other, of the most abject to the most enlightened. The real inequality of the races had made subordination prescriptive. No higher encomium could possibly be pronounced upon the practical beneficence of Southern institutions than the one tacitly sanctioned by the last amendment, viz : that they had been sufficient to educate the lowest of earth’s savages to take his place among the highest of earth’s freemen.” Later in the same speech he said, “Mr. Freeman, in his ‘Impressions of the United States,’ with the judicial calm which tempers all his writings, has stated the problem as it was and is presented to the South : ‘There is, I allow, difficulty and danger in the position of a class enjoying civil, but not political rights, placed under the protection of the law, but having no share in making the law or in choosing its makers. But surely there is still greater difficulty and danger in the existence of a class of citizens who, at the polling booth, are equal to other citizens, but who are not their equals anywhere else. We are told that education has done and is doing much for the once enslaved race. But education cannot wipe out the eternal distinction that has been drawn by the hand of nature. No teaching can turn a black man into a white one. The question which in days of controversy the North heard with such wrath from the mouth of the South, ‘ Would you like your daughter to marry a [n-word]? ‘ lies at the root of the matter. Where the closest of human connections is in any lawful form looked on as impossible, there is no real fellowship. The artificial tie of citizenship is in such cases a mockery.’ ” Much of the rest of the speech is lost cause nonsense. You can see his full speech here.

In this article, from last year, historian Brian Fennessy tells us the results of research he did with other monument dedication speeches. He wrote, “In the debates over Chapel Hill’s Confederate monument, scholars and activists frequently cite Julian Carr’s 1913 dedication speech. Carr argued that ‘during the four years immediately succeeding the war,’ the Confederate soldier’s ‘courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South.’ Carr placed the monument in a larger context than the Civil War. In the late 1860s, Reconstruction created non-racial, national citizenship and inspired local challenges to white supremacy. However, violent resistance by former Confederates overthrew Reconstruction in the 1870s, and at the turn of the twentieth century, white supremacists used disenfranchisement to quash further biracial activism. Carr celebrated the defeat of Reconstruction, the subsequent victory of white supremacy and the Confederate veteran’s role in both. But just how common was Carr’s decision to bring up race and Reconstruction at a monument to the ordinary Confederate soldier? To answer this question, I searched for dedication speeches that were given at Confederate soldier monuments across North Carolina. Most orations were given by veterans and state officials. I successfully tracked down 30, and they support two conclusions: 1) white nationalism was a fixture of Confederate monumentation, and 2) Confederate soldier monuments honored veterans for their postwar success in eroding black equality as much as for their failed wartime sacrifices. Racist language pervades the dedication speeches. If one assumes that the speaker is excluding blacks from the term ‘southerners,’ when its use clearly meant only white southerners, then white identity politics are present in every speech. But speakers were often more explicit. 14 speeches explicitly invoked ‘our Anglo-Saxon ancestors,’ ‘love of race,’ or ‘your own race and blood.’ ” He continues, “In front of Charlotte’s common soldier monument, dedicated in 1910, Judge Armistead Burwell admonished his audience to ‘be reminded by this silent soldier … to protect from taint the Saxon blood that courses in your veins.’ Eleven years later, in Caswell County, Chief Executive of the North Carolina Daughters of the Confederacy Mary Kerr Spencer declared, ‘We are proud of the fact that North Carolina has the finest and purest strain of Anglo-Saxon blood in the veins of her people on the American continent.’ At a 1909 dedication, Gov.William Kitchin extolled whites for their subjugation of black Americans, Central Americans, Asians, Africans and Native Americans. In this project of global racial ordering, he proudly proclaimed, ‘the Confederate veteran has had his full share.’ ” Another major theme was Reconstruction and the white supremacist terrorism that overthrew it. “Orators spun a narrative of Reconstruction as a tragic era of misrule stemming from black suffrage. Carr alluded to Reconstruction as the time ‘when ‘the bottom rail was on top,’ ‘ suggesting – incorrectly – that former slaves had become politically dominant. Confederate veteran John C. McLauchlin tapped into a deeper anxiety at the Wadesboro monument. He said that during Reconstruction ‘our homes were not inviolable, our women were not secure from the assaults of the brutish,’ conjuring up the white nightmare of black rapists. People at the time disputed this interpretation, and historians have thoroughly discredited it. Nevertheless, it was a story that white supremacists used to justify disenfranchisement and imagine Confederate veterans as heroes. At the dedication of the Pittsboro soldiers’ monument in 1907, Judge Walter Clark told fellow veterans ‘in the years following (the war) you were equal to the highest duties of the citizen.’ Gov. Thomas Bickett told a Rocky Mount audience in 1917 that ‘the example of the heroism and fortitude of the Confederate soldier has been worth more since the war was over than the war cost.’ Kitchin was ‘glad the leaders in war had become the leaders in peace.’ He concludes, “Monuments to the common Confederate soldier were inseparable from white nationalism. They were built to celebrate veterans’ successful efforts to circumscribe black citizenship, and dedication speakers wanted those actions to inspire others.”

In Greenwood, South Carolina, confederate veteran William Gray gave a dedication speech at their confederate monument. According to historian Ethan Kytle, he said, “The Confederate war was waged, not for ambition, not for glory, not for conquest, not for power and not slavery. It was waged in self-defence and for our homes and for constitutional liberty. The world thought that the zenith of glory was reached by the Confederate soldier in war, but he was even grander in peace. He returned to the desolated spot.” He also said, “By the grandeur of his glory and the splendor of his manhood he challenged the admiration of the armed invaders of his home, overawed the carpet-bagger, redeemed his State and forced the enemies of constitutional liberty to recognize the principle for which he fought.” He went on, saying the confederacy “was short-lived, but, like a brilliant meteor, it took its place in the firmament of nations….We know that its influence is now felt and that it will continue to perpetuate the cause of human liberty so long as Anglo Saxon civilization survives. We know that Christian civilization has successfully penetrated the jungles of Africa, and the descendants of many of the savages who were transported to the South have been taught to know God.” In summary, he said, “We know that the highest type of Anglo-Saxon manhood and of Anglo-Saxon civilization may be found in the States of the South.”

3 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Blue in Red Virginia and commented:
    Al Mackey is great at helping us see the parts that are most troublesome and need out attention to them. Good read that explains so much of what others leave out of the discussion in their zeal to protect the “lost cause” of the confederacy!

  2. Well done as usual, Mr. Mackey, you are a better teacher than many who do it professionally. Great research and a mirror for those who would leave out so much of the uncomfortable truths of the Civil War that still cause so much pain in a nation that never healed (and IMO does not want to). I LOVE your blog and the understanding you bring to the complicated subject!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sandi, but I feel I need more improvement as a teacher. 🙂

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