Statue Controversy Apart From Confederate Heritage

Although the retreat of confederate heritage continues, I thought it would be appropriate to consider other controversial monuments.

Colonel Hans Christian Heg hated slavery but a statue dedicated to him was still destroyed.(AP: Steve Apps)

First of all, let’s revisit the toppling of the Madison, Wisconsin statue of Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist and United States Army officer killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. This story tells us, “A statue of one of America’s fiercest anti-slavery activists has been decapitated and dragged into a lake after being wrongly targeted by anti-racism protesters during a night of violence in the country’s Midwest. Colonel Hans Christian Heg campaigned against slavery, fought in the Union army during the American Civil War, and even led a militia that targeted slave-catchers in Wisconsin. He was shot leading his regiment against Confederate troops at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, and died the next day. His statue, outside Wisconsin’s State Capitol in Madison, was defaced on Tuesday night with graffiti that read ‘Fire Matt Kenny‘ It was referring to the white police officer who shot and killed black 19-year-old Tony Robinson in Wisconsin in 2015. A group then tore the metal monument down, cut off its head and threw it in nearby Lake Monona. Protesters toppled another long-standing statue in Madison on Tuesday night. Representing Wisconsin’s motto, the Forward statue was first installed 125 years ago and replaced with a bronze replica in 1998. It sat in an area outside the Capitol that has been the scene of protests since the May 25 death of George Floyd. After the destruction of the statues, Governor Tony Evers called on the Wisconsin National Guard to protect state property.” But was it a mistake? Not according to one of the protesters. “But Protester Micah Le said the two statues paint a picture of Wisconsin as a racially progressive state even though slavery has continued in the form of a corrections system built around incarcerating Blacks. ‘The fall of the statues is a huge gain for the movement, though I think that liberal and conservative media outlets will try to represent last night as senseless violence, rather than the strategic political move it really was,’ Mr Le said.”

Something else we should ask ourselves is whether this is a case of “erasing history” or somehow hurting history. First of all, dear readers, how many of you even heard of Hans Christian Heg before his statue was toppled? I venture to say a minority of us heard of him beforehand. This action has given us a chance to learn about the man. We have, for example, this story about him. “Here is what you should know about the man who died fighting the Confederate army: Heg was an immigrant who opposed slavery. Heg migrated to Waukesha County in Wisconsin from Norway in 1840. After two years in California during the Gold Rush of 1849, he returned to Wisconsin to care for his younger siblings and manage the family farm. Heg soon entered local politics and joined the Free Soil Party, which was centered around opposing the expansion of slavery into the western United States. He was also a leader of Wisconsin’s Wide Awakes, an anti-slave catcher militia. In 1859, Heg used his position as state prison commissioner to advocate for vocational training rather than the punishment of prisoners. He fought against Confederate armies. Heg was appointed colonel of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry — a group consisting mostly of recent immigrants from Scandinavia — in the fall of 1861. He trained at Camp Randall in December and left for the South on March 2, 1862. He defeated a number of Confederate armies in battles in Kentucky and Tennessee. On Dec. 30, 1862, Heg lost more than 100 men and had his horse shot out from under him. His general later called him ‘the bravest of the brave,’ according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. He died fighting for the Union. Heg’s brigade chased a retreating Confederate army to Chickamauga, Georgia, on Sept. 19, 1863. Outnumbered, Heg was leading a charge in front of his troops when he was shot in the abdomen. He died the next morning. A triangular pyramid monument of 8-inch shells stacked 10 feet high marks the spot where Heg was mortally wounded, according to the National Park Service.” Would we have had that story in the news had the statue not been toppled? One could say the protesters, in toppling the statue, did more for Heg’s memory than the statue undisturbed did.

Additionally, Professor Drew Bledsoe posted a thread on Heg on Twitter, saying, “Since Col. Hans Heg has attracted some interest, here is a sense of the sort of person he was. This is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his wife from near Wills Valley, Alabama on September 4, 1863–16 days before his death.’…I shall be at home as soon as this campaign is over. I could give you a good deal of news—the most of which would only be sickening to tell—how the people here are suffering by the rebells. The people are nearly all loyal but very poor. Men wemen and children have been shot and hung by the hundred. After seeing and hearing these people tell their tales of suffering and grief and then to think that there is men even in Wisconsin who sympathise and aid the infernal brutes, is almost enough to make a mans blood boil. I have never felt so glad to be a soldier as I have since I came into these mountains where we could do so much good to the poor down trodden people. There are hundreds here that have laid in hollow log and caves for months hiding themselves, and their wemen have been hung till they were compelled to tell where their husbands were. One woman came into camp yesterday whose husband had been shot a few weeks ago, after he had been compelled to dig his own grave—she said she came in with her boy to sell some chickens and get some coffee—but the main thing she came for, she said, was to see the old Flag. Some of our boys brought her a Flag—she took it and geathered it up in her hands while the tears rolled down her cheek. It was [a] touching sight…” Blegen, ed. The Civil War Letters of Colonel Hans Christian Heg.”

Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.

The Freedman’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, also called the Emancipation Memorial, located in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., is under fire, as is its replica in Boston. We have this story about the monument in Lincoln Park. “The striking monument features a stately Abraham Lincoln standing over an unnamed, barely-clothed black man who is kneeling at his feet. Newly emancipated, the man’s shackles have been broken, but its manacles still decorate his wrists. Lincoln’s left arm is extended over the man’s head, ostensibly bestowing freedom upon him. Yet, Lincoln’s hand is facing downward as one would when tousling a child’s hair, or worse, petting an animal. Indeed, at just the right angle, that’s exactly as it appears.”

The article continues, “A white Lincoln occupying the space above, looking down upon a black man kneeling below — it’s this power dynamic that caught my eye, and, frankly, infuriated me. I shared the image with my students and in some invited talks as a means to discuss white supremacy, the white savior complex, and the multi-headed beast that is systemic racism. I’ve shown this image to a bunch of friends and the reaction is always the same — first a painful grimace, then they grab my phone for a better look, and ask, ‘is that actually up somewhere right now?’ ‘Yes,’ I’ve answered, adding, ‘and there’s more than one of them.’ In researching the image, I was reminded that I’d seen it before, in person. An exact replica stands in Boston’s Lincoln Square, a small patch of grass just off the Boston Common, nestled between luxury condos and hotels including the Park Plaza and the Four Seasons. I first saw it as a college student two decades earlier and recall telling friends how racist it seemed. What does it mean that I had completely forgotten, even as the debate about statues was raging, that a monument I’d once viewed as racist stood uncontested in my own back yard?”

Emancipation Statue in Park Square, Boston, MA

We learn, “Erected in 1876, the original Emancipation Memorial sits in D.C.’s Lincoln Park, a forgotten stretch of grass in a residential neighborhood just one mile from the U.S. Capitol Building. The National Mall was mostly swampland then, while Lincoln Park was considered prime real estate. And so, it was with great fanfare that this national monument was dedicated. President Ulysses S. Grant, supreme court justices, members of congress and foreign dignitaries were among the 25,000 people in attendance — black and white. Federal employees were even given the day off to attend the ceremonies. This was a big deal. The push for such a monument began almost immediately after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Upon hearing of his death, Charlotte Scott, a freed black woman, gave the first five dollars of her earnings to create a memorial to the martyr-president. The Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis, an agency that helped care for newly freedmen and refugees during the war, took on the task of raising additional funds. The monument would be the first of its kind to be funded solely by freedmen, a tribute to their beloved emancipator. The Sanitary Commission played on this sentiment, issuing a letter inviting all freedmen to contribute to a monument to ‘Massa Lincoln.’ $17,000 was raised to fund the memorial — an enormous sum coming from a newly emancipated people. Predictably (and this is important), none of these donors had a say in the monument’s design. Instead, the all-white Commission led by Rev. William G. Eliot set out to find a suitable tribute. Eliot met with Massachusetts-born artist Thomas Ball, who had sculpted Boston’s acclaimed George Washington statue. Ball was working in Florence, and, upon hearing of Lincoln’s death, sculpted a smaller version of what would come to be known as Lincoln and a Kneeling Slave.

This early small demonstration version, was purchased from Ball and brought to Methuen, Massachusetts by Edward Francis Searles where it rests in the Town Hall atrium. Photo by EraserGirl.

According to the article, “Eliot and the Commission liked the concept, but thought the kneeling figure was depicted as too subservient, and asked for changes be made. Notably, the ‘liberty cap’ was removed and the figure’s right arm was stretched outward to indicate that he was rising up as a free man. Nailed it!, they must have said upon seeing the updated design, which was then cast in bronze. If you think the final version fails to effectively connote the agency or dignity owed to any human, enslaved or free, then you’re in good company. Frederick Douglass gave the keynote speech at the 1876 dedication. He ­had long pushed for a monument to The Great Emancipator, but was similarly displeased with the final outcome, remarking that the statue ‘showed the Negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.’ The black figure on bended knee was likely a remix of a widely-viewed image depicting the plight of enslaved people. Accompanied by the plea ‘AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER?,’ the image appeared on medallions worn by abolitionists and became a symbol of the anti-slavery movement.”

Design of the medallion created as part of an anti-slavery campaign by Josiah Wedgwood, 1787

As the article tells us, “Did Ball consider his work an homage to the abolitionist movement, or was it representative of his own views on the white / black dynamic? That’s unclear. Regardless, the juxtaposition of a kneeling black man and a towering Lincoln is evocative of the paternalistic sentiment that was typical of whites of the era — slaveholders and abolitionists alike — toward blacks, free or enslaved. Yet another change to the original version was made at the behest of Eliot. In a bid to add a touch of realism, he asked Ball to model the facial features after Archer Alexander, a formerly enslaved man who later became Eliot’s servant. That Alexander was enslaved in Missouri, a border slave state exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation, which therefore did not confer freedom upon him, was apparently of no consequence to Eliot or Ball. The Boston replica, called the Emancipation Statue, was erected in 1879. A gift from Ball’s former employer, Moses Kimball, it was similarly placed in an venerable location, with a direct line of sight to the State House. The dedication took place in Faneuil Hall (due to rain). The official program perpetuated the narrative that the design presented the slave figure as having a role in his own emancipation: ‘In the original the kneeling slave is represented as perfectly passive, receiving the boon of freedom from the great liberator. But the artist justly changed this to bring the presentation nearer to the historical fact, by making the emancipated slave an agent in his own deliverance. He is accordingly represented as exerting his own strength, with strained muscles, in breaking the chain which had bound him. A greater degree of dignity and vigor, as well as historical accuracy, is thus imparted.’ The Emancipation Statue was a great source of pride for Boston. Each year, the mayor and other dignitaries would hold a ceremony, complete with speeches and a wreath laying. In 1934, newly elected Mayor Frederick Mansfield, unaware of this custom, neglected to plan such an event. Citizens flooded City Hall with protests. In response, the City Council quickly passed an order that council members were to purchase a wreath with their own funds and place it on the statue. They did so, well after dark. In photos of the event, Mayor Mansfield is notably absent.”

As the article tells us, the monument was controversial from early on. “Of course, the emancipation statue was not universally accepted. Quite the contrary. Noted art historian Freeman Henry Morris Murray pointedly criticized the work in 1916, noting that the kneeling figure seemed to have ‘…little if any conception of the dignity and power of his own manhood.’ Chandler Rathfon Post, another art historian, remarked in 1921: ‘The real merits of conscientious portraiture in Ball’s own representation of Lincoln… are obscured by the unfortunate appearance that he has given to the negro of polishing the President’s boots.’ This notion of the figure as a shoeshiner dated back to 1892, when the Boston Evening Transcript noted the figure’s pose was suggestive of him ‘blackening Lincoln’s boots,’ and the Evening Telegraph mockingly asked, ‘Shine, sir?’ This unfortunate nickname stuck with the statue for decades, although little was done to challenge its continued existence. One notable exception was in 1982, when Boston City Councilman Bruce Bolling, citing concerns from the black community, questioned whether the statue should be moved or even permanently removed. A Boston Globe story at the time noted, ‘Some say it appears as if the crouching figure is shining Lincoln’s shoes. They say it makes Lincoln appear to be The Great Patronizer.’ The Boston Art Commission, which was tasked with deciding the monument’s fate, received pushback from, among others, the Lincoln Group of Boston. They cited the historical significance of emancipation ‘for freedom, equality, and democracy,’ yet offered no comment on the concerns of Boston’s black citizens. It’s unclear whether this argument or another won the day, but what we do know is that Lincoln remains today in Park Square, looming mightily over a black man kneeling at his feet. The emancipation statue has received its fair share of criticism in more recent years too. Historian Kirk Savage published a scathing critique of the design in his 1999 book, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: ‘Ball’s emancipated man is the very archetype of slavery: he is stripped, literally and figuratively, bereft of personal agency, social position, and accouterments of culture. Juxtaposed against the fully dressed, commanding figure of Lincoln, the black figure’s nudity loses its heroic aspect and works instead as negation — most drastically a negation of the conventional markers of masculinity now monopolized by the white man above. Frozen forever in this unfortunate juxtaposition, the monument is not really about emancipation but about its opposite — domination.’ Building on Savage’s critique, art historian Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw added: ‘Ball’s monumental sculpture is a typical example of the effort to create public images that would maintain white superiority and the authority of the emancipatory act under the guise of Christian benevolence toward blacks.’ More recently, think pieces discussing the controversy have appeared in publications as diverse as The Washington PostThe Weekly Standard and The Root, each taking issue with the imbalance in racial power and the lack of dignity given to the unnamed black figure, but none calling for its removal. Of course, this was before Charlottesville and our national debate over what to do with statues and other monuments that fail to represent our values. If statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun are clearly contrary to who we are as Americans today, then what to do with Lincoln and the unnamed, nearly-naked black man kneeling at his feet in D.C. and Boston? Bostonians in particular need not be reminded of our national reputation — a politically progressive city, yes, but also one with an embarrassing racial past and present. From violent resistance to school desegregation efforts in the 1970’s, to our shameful status as one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities, the last thing we need is a monument to white supremacy.”

As we can see, opposition to this monument is based on how it looks and not opposition to Lincoln. This article says, “Harriet Hosmer, a sculptor of great fame at that period, suggested that the figure of the slave should be clutching a rifle.”

In this article, Professor David Blight argues the statue should not be removed. He says, “This is hardly the monument our culture would create today as a memorial of emancipation. But none of us can ultimately have our history or memory pure. Memory is always about the politics of the present, but the righteous present is not always right. Do not tear down this monument. I fully understand that protests are not forums for complexity; current demonstrations are the results of justifiable passion and outrage. It is reasonable to clear our landscape of public commemoration of the failed, four-year slaveholders’ rebellion to sustain white supremacy known as the Confederacy, even if it doesn’t erase our history. But the Freedmen’s Memorial is another matter. For those contemplating the elimination of this monument, including D.C.’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), please consider the people who created it and what it meant for their lives in a century not our own. We ought not try to purify their past and present for our needs.”

Professor Blight then paints the scene of the monument’s dedication for us. “A huge parade involving nearly every black organization in the city preceded the dedication of the monument on April 14, 1876. The procession included cornet bands, marching drum corps, youth clubs in colorful uniforms and fraternal orders. Horse-drawn carriages transported master of ceremonies and Howard University law school dean, John Mercer Langston, and the orator of the day, Frederick Douglass, a resident of that neighborhood. Representatives of the entire U.S. government sat in the front rows at the ceremony; the occasion had been declared a federal holiday. President Ulysses S. Grant, members of his Cabinet, members of the House and Senate and justices of the Supreme Court all attended. The $20,000 used to build the monument had been raised among black Americans, most of them former slaves. A former slave woman, Charlotte Scott, had donated the first $5. The sculptor, Thomas Ball, lived and worked in Italy. The model for the kneeling slave, Archer Alexander — a former slave — was photographed numerous times and had his pictures sent to Ball. Ball believed he depicted Alexander as an ‘agent in his own resistance,’ an assumption of course roundly debated to this day. A young black poet from D.C., Cordelia Ray, recited an original poem, ‘Lincoln.’ Grant, who did not speak, pulled the cords and unveiled the statue. Douglass then took the podium and delivered one of the greatest speeches of his life. No African American speaker had ever faced this kind of captive audience of the full government, and none would do so again until Barack Obama’s inauguration as president in 2009. Douglass constructed memories of Lincoln in two distinctive ways. With blunt honesty, Douglass announced that Lincoln “was not . . . either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man . . . the white man’s president.” He directly chastised Lincoln’s early advocacy to remove blacks from the country as a solution after emancipation. In the most lasting words of the speech, Douglass said: ‘My white fellow-citizens . . . you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.’ Then the tone and purpose of the speech shifted. Though Lincoln had ‘tarried long in the mountain,’ he did arrive at emancipation. ‘The hour and the man . . . had somehow met.’ Douglass employed a refrain several times: ‘Under his rule,’ and ‘in due time.’ Lincoln had sought the timing of his own in relation to events, and Douglass acknowledged that black freedom could only have come as it did — in war, by presidential decree and by the volition of black people themselves. Above all, the orator turned his address into a dire warning to his illustrious audience that Reconstruction was failing, indeed being lost in the South. They had little time to act to save the great results of the war. Douglass brilliantly recruited Lincoln’s memory to the cause of black equality and rights.”

Professor Blight concludes, “Rather than take down this monument to Lincoln and emancipation, create a commission that will engage new artists to represent the story of black freedom from one generation to the next. Let today’s imaginations take flight. Perhaps commission a statue of Douglass himself delivering this magnificent speech. So much new learning can take place by the presence of both past and present. As a nation, let’s replace a landscape strewn with Confederate symbols with memorialization of emancipation. Tearing down the Freedmen’s Memorial would be a terrible start for that epic process.”

How about, instead, removing this statue to a museum, putting up a statue to Douglass, and renaming the park to “Freedom Park?”

A statue depicting a Civil War soldier was toppled from its base outside the Colorado state Capitol and discovered June 25, 2020. The base is now covered with graffiti. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

We have this story out of Colorado regarding the toppling of a monument to Colorado troops who fought during the Civil War. It tells us, “A Civil War monument outside the Colorado Capitol was torn down in the early morning hours Thursday by protesters, according to the Colorado State Patrol. The statue honoring Colorado soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War was toppled from its perch on the west side of the Capitol and the base was marred by graffiti. A spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol told The Colorado Sun on Thursday morning that protesters are responsible but he could not provide more details. Master Trooper Gary Cutler said the statue came down about 1:30 a.m. Denver police have identified four suspects involved in the toppling of the statue and were investigating how it was torn down, spokesman Doug Schepman said. Gov. Jared Polis, in a written statement, said he was ‘outraged at the damage to a statue that commemorates the Union heroes of the Civil War who fought and lost their lives to end slavery.’ ‘This statue will be repaired,’ he wrote, ‘and we will use every tool at our disposal to work with Denver Police and to hold accountable those responsible for the damage whether they are hooligans, white supremacists, Confederate sympathizers, or drunk teenagers.’ The statue — erected by the state in 1909 — was designed by Capt. Jack Howland, a member of the 1st Colorado Cavalry. It depicts a dismounted cavalryman in uniform, a rifle in hand. A plaque on it lists the names of soldiers who died. The cavalry guarded Colorado against a possible Confederate invasion of the territory’s gold mines and protected settlements against Native Americans, according to the state archives.”

A statue long controversial because of its memorialization of a Civil War era cavalry unit responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre of peaceful Native Americans in 1864 was toppled in front of the state Capitol. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The article tells us, “But the history of the statue, and the events it represents, is complicated, said University of California, Davis Professor Ari Kelman. His book, ‘A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek,’ explores the political environment surrounding the way the massacre is remembered. The statue commemorates the Coloradans who fought in the Civil War. That includes those who fought in The Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862, where Union soldiers dealt a crippling blow to Confederates fighting in the West. Some of the soldiers memorialized by the statue played a key role in that victory, Kelman said. But two years later about 200 soldiers from the 1st Colorado Cavalry also took part in the Sand Creek Massacre near Eads on Nov. 29. Joining them in the slaughter was the 3rd Cavalry, created in 1864 for the sole purpose of fighting Native Americans. The installation of the statue, which also commemorates the Third Cavalry, took place in a broader context, Kelman said, when friends and family of Civil War fighters wanted to create a “heroic narrative of Coloradans’ participation in the Civil War. ‘They wanted Sand Creek to be understood as a noble battle,’ Kelman said. On the monument’s original plaque, Sand Creek is listed as a battle, not a massacre. Because of that, the monument doesn’t convey history; instead it conveys a politicized memory, he said. ‘The constraint of public memory is an inherently political process,’ Kelman said. In the 1990s, the state legislature moved to remove Sand Creek from the list of battles. But Cheyenne and Arapaho people, including some descendants of survivors of the massacre, opposed the decision. Instead, a plaque explaining the controversy connecting the memorial to the Sand Creek Massacre was added to the statue.”

The second plaque for the toppled Civil War statue, which explains the controversy connecting the memorial to the Sand Creek Massacre. The monument originally designated the massacre a “battle” to be commemorated with other Union battles and after decades of protests from Native American tribes, was reclassified as a massacre. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

According to the article, “In 2014, on the 150th anniversary of the attack, then Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a formal apology on behalf of the state for the slaughter of nearly 200 people at Sand Creek — mostly women and children who posted a white flag of surrender prior to the assault. Tom Noel, co-director of the public history program at the University of Colorado, Denver, said it was a ‘tragedy’ that the statue was torn down. ‘I personally like these monuments — and like them kept up — because they remind us what happened in the past,’ Noel said. That history, Noel said, includes the story of Union soldiers commemorated by the statue fighting to free slaves: ‘You would think [they] would be regarded as a hero rather than someone who needs to be toppled.’ He said he hoped that the harmful past the statue memorializes, including the Sand Creek Massacre, would help ensure that similar atrocities don’t happen in the future. The removal of the statue follows similar actions across the country as protests about racial justice continue in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. Denver’s public art program is evaluating other installations in the city, including a piece in Civic Center placed in tribute to Christopher Columbus in 1970.” It seems to me Colorado officials need to read Professor Kelman’s book. Sand Creek should not be depicted as a noble battle.

The pedestal for the Civil War soldier monument standing in front of the state Capitol on June 25, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

We also have this report from the BBC seeking to answer the question, “Why do we care about statues?”

One comment

  1. Kammen covers this succinctly in “Mystic Chords of Memory.”

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