Confederate Heritage Continues Slip-Slidin’ Away

There is still more news on the confederate heritage front.

In this story we learn a confederate monument found itself being removed in Charleston, West Virginia. “A Confederate monument was removed from Ruffner Park Monday morning, according to city officials. The memorial was erected in 1922 in honor of the Kanawha Riflemen by the Kanawha Riflemen Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy. In a statement sent to 13 News by Mayor Amy Goodwin’s Office: ‘The City of Charleston removed the confederate monument out of Ruffner Park, which is owned and maintained by the City of Charleston. It was the right thing to do to remove it, and so we did earlier today.’ The land was deeded to the city of Charleston by Joseph Ruffner in 1831. It was originally used as a cemetery before it was converted to a park in 1920. Today, a few graves remain. ‘Shortly after the park was unveiled, they installed the Confederate monument. A few graves were moved if they were from affluent families,’ Calvin Grimm said. Grimm and his colleague, Herbert Gardner, spent hundreds of hours researching the history of slavery in the Kanawha Valley as well as the site of the monument for their film ‘River of Hope.’ On Monday, the plaques of the monument were quietly removed, but it did not take long for people to notice when a post began to circulate on social media. The reactions were mixed.”

Of course, the SCV is apoplectic that a monument to treason and the fight for white supremacy was removed. ” ‘A piece of local history was suddenly removed with apparently no public comment or our feelings on it,’ said Ernest Blevins, with the Robert S. Garnett Camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. ‘There was no public comment, no reaching out to groups that may have an interest to the monuments,’ he added. Others were much happier that the monument was removed. ‘These are markers to white supremacists that have stood for virtually the entire lifetime of everyone living today. And it is one fine day here in Charleston that this has come down,’ Charleston resident Howard Swint said. ‘It’s about time it was removed. I applaud the mayor’s actions. In the future, I’d love to see something here to honor those that were buried here,’ Gardner added.”

This story tells us the city of Beaumont, Texas removed its confederate monument as well. “The City of Beaumont removed a Confederate statue Monday. The statue had been in a downtown park since 1912. The city council voted 6-1 on Tuesday, June 23 to remove the statue at Wiess Park and store it in a warehouse. The cost to remove the statue is estimated to be $15,000. Council members Audwin Samuel and Randy Feldschau requested that council discuss removing the statue, according to a memo from city manager Kyle Hayes. Councilman Mike Getz was the only member to vote against removing the statue. During the discussion, councilmembers Audwin Samuel and Mike Gets exchanged heated words before the mayor called for a recess. As the council members headed towards each other, Mayor Becky Ames quietly said, ‘Go separate ways, please. Go separate ways, cool off.’ After a break the council returned and after a few minutes more discussion voted to remove the statue. The city council also decided that a community member would be allowed to purchase the statue after its removal. The council previously discussed the statue in August 2017, following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where one person was killed.”

This story tells us the Loudoun County chapter of the UDC requested return of the confederate monument in Leesburg, Virginia. “The Loudoun Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is requesting its 112-year-old Confederate statue in Leesburg be returned to the organization. The request from chapter No. 170 comes as more counties and cities across the country are taking steps to remove Confederate statues in the wake of nationwide protests for racial equity and reform. While recognizing leaders in the Confederacy, the statues in Virginia have also been connected to oppression and institutional racism. Beginning next week, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will discuss the future of Confederate statue, which is located in front of the county courthouse in downtown Leesburg. The Virginia General Assembly this year voted to give localities the ability to remove, relocate or contextualize the monuments in their communities. The law goes into effect July 1. Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) had this to say about the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s request: ‘The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. History proves the Civil War was fought because Confederate states wanted the right to own human beings. They believed this so fervently, they chose to secede from the United States and declare war on our nation. Their five-year cause resulted in the bloodiest war in our Nation’s history and their ultimate defeat. ‘The fact that God has blessed me to be the Chair-at-Large of Loudoun County at this moment, to receive this letter from the United Daughters of the Confederacy requesting the return of the Confederate that sits on Loudoun’s courthouse grounds, is truly remarkable. For almost two decades, I have argued forcefully that a monument to the Confederacy sitting on public property, paid for with taxpayer dollars, is unacceptable. Obviously, I will need to speak to the County Administrator as well as my colleagues on the board to work out the details, however, I certainly support the United Daughters of the Confederacy retrieving their statue.‘ ”

In entertainment news, Will Smith is reportedly making a movie called “Emancipation” based on the story behind this photograph:

“In the movie, Will Smith would play a real-life historical figure named Peter, a runaway slave who needed to work his way out of the South and to the North where he eventually joined the Union army and continued to fight for the freedom of his people. Deadline notes that Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) is down to direct Emancipation, and has the bidding war occurring between Warner Bros. and Apple. The news is stemming out of a Virtual Cannes Market, which took place last week due to the fact that normal film festivals can’t really happen around the globe. As other studios dropped away because the cost of the film grew to large, Warner Bros. and Apple reportedly stayed in the mix, and as of Sunday evening, had driven the price of Emancipation in the range of $130 million, which Deadline notes would set a record for a Cannes sale. Peter’s story is best remembered because of an iconic photograph that was taken once he finally reached the North. The lashes on his back were the first traces of proof that the Northern forces had regarding the mistreatment of slaves in the South. Emancipation is a fascinating title for a number of reasons. If Apple is plunging into acquisitions of this size, it’s compelling to see them going head to head with one of the majors. Apple also has the Tom Hanks submarine thriller, Greyhound, coming to its streaming service on July 10 following the disheveled theatrical release calendar forced that film out of multiplexes. Adding talents like Smith and Hanks to its roster is incredibly impressive for a newcomer to the realm of film production (while still being, undoubtedly, a gigantic media corporation).

This article gives us the historical story behind Peter and his scars. “By the time he made it to a Union encampment in Baton Rouge in March 1863, Peter had been through hell. Bloodhounds had chased him. He had been pursued for miles, had run barefoot through creeks and across fields. He had survived, if barely. When he reached the soldiers, Peter’s clothing was ragged and soaked with mud and sweat. But his ten-day ordeal was nothing compared to what he had already been through. During Peter’s enslavement on John and Bridget Lyons’ Louisiana plantation, Peter endured not just the indignity of slavery, but a brutal whipping that nearly took his life. And when he joined the Union Army after his escape from slavery, Peter exposed his scars during a medical examination. Raised welts and strafe marks crisscrossed his back. The marks extended from his buttocks to his shoulders, calling to mind the viciousness and power with which he had been beaten. It was a hideous constellation of scars: visual proof of the brutality of slavery. And for thousands of white people, it was a shocking image that helped fuel the fires of abolition during the Civil War. A photograph of Peter’s back became one of the most widely circulated images of slavery of its time, galvanizing public opinion and serving as a wordless indictment of the institution of slavery. Peter’s disfigured back helped bring the stakes of the Civil War to life, contradicting Southerners’ insistence that their slaveholding was a matter of economic survival, not racism. And it showed just how important mass media was during the war that nearly destroyed the United States. Not much is known about Peter aside from the testimony he gave the medical examiners at the camp and the image of his back and the keloid scars he suffered from his beating. He told examiners that he had left the plantation ten days ago, and that the man who whipped him was the plantation’s overseer, Artayou Carrier. After the whipping, he was told he had become ‘sort of crazy’ and had threatened his wife. As he lay in bed recovering, the plantation owner fired the overseer. But Peter had already determined to escape. Peter and three other enslaved people escaped by cover of night, but one of their companions was murdered by slave hunters who came in pursuit of Lyons’ property. The surviving escapees rubbed onions on their bodies to escape the bloodhounds the slave catchers used to pursue them. Only after days of pursuit did they reach the Union encampment, weeping with joy when they were greeted by black men in uniform. They immediately enlisted. The white soldiers who inspected Peter were horrified by his wounds. ‘Suiting the action to the word, he pulled down the pile of dirty rags that half concealed his back,’ said a witness. ‘It sent a thrill of horror to every white person present, but the few Blacks who were waiting…paid but little attention to the sad spectacle, such terrible scenes being painfully familiar to them all.’ But though Peter’s experience was shared by thousands of enslaved people, it was foreign to many Northerners who had never witnessed slavery and its brutality with their own eyes. Mass media was still relatively new, and though escaped slaves and other eyewitnesses brought stories of whippings and other punishments north, few had seen the evidence of the oppression of slaves. McPherson and Oliver, two itinerant photographers who were at the camp, photographed Peter’s back, and the photo was reproduced and distributed as a carte-de-visite, a trendy new photographic format. The small cards were cheap to produce and became wildly popular during the Civil War, providing a near-instant look at the war, and its players, as it unfolded. Peter’s photo quickly spread across the nation. ‘I have found a large number of the four hundred or so contrabands [people who had escaped slavery and were now protected by the Union Army] examined by me to be as badly lacerated as the specimen represented in the enclosed photograph,’ J.W. Mercer, a Union Army surgeon in Louisiana, wrote on the back of the card. He sent it to Colonel L.B. Marsh. ‘This Card Photograph should be multiplied by 100,000, and scattered over the States,’ an anonymous journalist wrote. The image was a powerful rebuttal to the lie that enslaved people were treated humanely, a common refrain of those who didn’t think slavery should be abolished.”

Three illustrations showing Peter after his escape, the welts from being whipped upon his back, and in uniform after he had joined the Union Army, featured in McPherson and Oliver in July, 1863. Library of Congress

The article continues, “Peter was not the only runaway slave whose image helped stoke anti-slavery sentiments. As soon as the carte de visite was introduced in 1854, the technology became popular in abolitionist circles. Others who had escaped from slavery, like Frederick Douglass, posed for popular portraits. Sojourner Truth even used the proceeds from the cartes de visites she sold at her speeches to fund speaking tours and help recruit black soldiers. But Peter’s strafed back was perhaps the most visible—and significant—photograph of a former slave. It was sold by abolitionists who used it to raise money for their cause, and gained the name ‘The Scourged Back’ or ‘Whipped Peter.’ When it was published in Harper’s Weekly, the most popular periodical of its day, it reached a massive audience. The spread also stoked confusion when Peter’s name was listed instead as ‘Gordon.’ The photo was also decried as fake by the Copperheads, a nickname for a faction of Northerners who opposed the war and was loudly sympathetic of the South and of slave ownership. An unnamed Union Army soldier who had taken the photographs shot back with a long account that upheld the veracity of the photograph. ‘All the logic of the blind and infatuated believers in Human Slavery cannot arrest or thwart the progress of truth, any more than they can prevent the development of the positive picture, when aided by the silent and powerful process of chemical action,’ he wrote. Though Peter’s body was used as proof of the cruelty of slavery, accounts of his ordeal are saturated with the racism that pervaded American society, even among sympathetic white Northerners. The Harper’s spread referred to Peter as possessing ‘unusual intelligence and energy,’ laying bare stereotypes of black people as stupid and lazy. A surgeon who was present at his examination noted that ‘nothing in his appearance indicates any unusual viciousness,’ as if anything could justify a whipping. Despite the racism of the day, though, Peter’s portrait did galvanize even those who had never spoken out against slavery. ‘What began as a very local — even private — image ultimately achieved something much grander because it circulated so widely,’ historian Bruce Laurie told the Boston Globe. It’s unclear what Peter did during the rest of the war, or what his life was like after the Civil War came to an end. Though slavery had been abolished, he—and the others who had been subjugated, beaten and demeaned during hundreds of years of slavery in the Americas—still bore the scars of enslavement.”

The article concludes, “As historian Michael Dickman notes, whipping was a common punishment on Southern plantations, though there was a debate about whether to use it sparingly to keep slaves from revolting. ‘Masters desired to maintain order in a society in which they were in unquestionable positions of authority,’ he writes. ‘They used the whip as a tool to enforce this vision of society. Slaves, on the other hand, through their victimization and punishment, viewed the whip as the physical manifestation of their oppression under slavery.’ For white Southerners and enslaved black people, the sight of a back like Peter’s was chillingly commonplace. For white Northerners, though, Peter’s scourged body made slavery’s brutality impossible to deny. It remains one of the era’s best known—and most appalling—images.”

The statue in the city’s Park Square is a replica of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington and depicts Lincoln with one hand raised above a kneeling man with broken shackles on his wrists. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Kevin Levin gives us this opinion piece on monuments in Boston, Massachusetts. “It was just a matter of time before the monument debate that has swept across the country, since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, arrived in Boston. Last week, Dorchester native Tory Bullock posted a video on his Facebook page calling for the removal of the Emancipation Memorial or Freedman’s Memorial on Park Square. The memorial — a copy of the original designed by Thomas Ball, dedicated in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1876 and paid for by formerly enslaved people — depicts Abraham Lincoln standing over a kneeling slave beckoning him to rise to claim his freedom. Bullock has already caught the attention of Mayor Marty Walsh, who is open to relocating the memorial. In the video, Bullock expresses frustration with the ‘Black dude on his knees’ — a popular motif within abolitionist circles before the Civil War. Bullock asks, ‘Does that make you feel powerful? Does that make you feel respected? Does that make you feel good?’ He is not the first African American to express such concern with the depiction of the Black man in this memorial or the narrative of emancipation that it represents. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass served as the keynote speaker at the D.C. dedication. In front of thousands of Black residents and much of the federal government, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Douglass declared, ‘my white fellow-citizens…you are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity.’ Douglass fought too hard and for too long to fall in line with the image of Lincoln as the ‘Great Emancipator.’ lthough Douglass never referenced the enslaved man in his speech, modeled after Archer Alexander, he is reported to have objected privately by suggesting, ‘it showed the negro on his knee when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.’ Even the most generous reading of the memorial ultimately falls short. ‘In bronze, Archer Alexander can never rise and stand, never come to consciousness of his own power,’ writes historian Kirk Savage. ‘The narrative remains frozen in place, the monument perpetuating its image of racial difference for eternity.’ Douglass, Bullock and Savage highlight the inadequacies that many people have acknowledged over the years. It places African Americans in a submissive posture, who simply waited for the gift of emancipation from Lincoln and the rest of the nation rather than claiming it for themselves. It runs roughshod over the steps that enslaved men and women took throughout the war to undercut the Confederacy from within by running away from plantations as well as the service of roughly 200,000 Black men in the United States army.”

A group of elementary school students from Paige Academy in Roxbury visit the Shaw Memorial at the Boston Common in 2013 to learn about the 54th Regiment. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

He also writes, “By the time the Emancipation Memorial was dedicated in Boston in 1879, African Americans — many of them formerly enslaved — were already standing on their two feet and engaged in political action in former Confederate states. They served in state legislatures and in Congress, where they pushed for a progressive platform that included the establishment of public schools, the redistribution of land and the expansion of voting rights. They did this in the face of brutal violence at the hands of terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The memorial itself deserves a serious review and public discussion, but it also highlights a glaring omission on Boston’s downtown commemorative landscape that so far has gone unnoticed. Just two blocks from the Emancipation Memorial visitors and residents of the city can walk through the Public Garden, which includes numerous statues celebrating the city’s white abolitionist leaders, such as William Ellery Channing, Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner. William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, is also located nearby on Commonwealth Avenue. Lost in all of this is any sense that Black Bostonians crusaded for their own freedom. Before the Civil War, the north slope of Beacon Hill was a vibrant and politically engaged African-American community and one of the most important centers of Black abolitionism. Black abolitionists such as Lewis Hayden, William Cooper Nell, William Wells Brown, David Walker, Maria Stewart and Eliza Ann Gardner campaigned for the desegregation of Boston’s public schools, stood up to the federal government in the 1850s in defense of fugitive slaves and demanded the end of slavery. Their efforts culminated in Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the recruitment of Black soldiers in the United States army in 1863 — a story that is beautifully commemorated in the memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, located just across from the State House. Like the kneeling slave in Thomas Ball’s memorial, the absence of statues commemorating these men and women leaves visitors with the impression that African Americans contributed nothing to their own emancipation. Rather, these statues reinforce the myth that emancipation was a gift from white Americans. According to historian Manisha Sinha, ‘Black abolitionists were integral to the broader, interracial milieu of the movement. To read them out of the abolition movement is to profoundly miss the part they played in defining traditions of American democratic radicalism.’ ”

As Kevin concludes, “Today, the stories of Boston’s Black abolitionists are told in the African Meeting House, run by the Museum of African American History and the National Park Service, for those visitors willing to stray from the more popular Freedom Trail. Contrary to the image of the kneeling slave, these men and women did not wait passively for the ‘Day of Jubilee.’ They led the charge. Our commemorative landscape in the heart of Boston should reflect this important truth. More importantly, it needs to reflect the history of all Bostonians if only so we can chart a better path forward together. It’s time for a conversation.”

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