Social Memory & Slavery Readings: Blog Post #3

“A Tale of Two Civil War Statues”

In this section of the reading, Jonathan I. Leib, a professor at Old Dominion University writes about investigating different strategies for teaching about race, power, and iconography in the American South. He teaches his students how to apply concepts and theories to investigate their local communities while seeing how landscapes are racialized. He provides his class with a fairly local example to ODU – Elmwood Cemetery and West Point Cemetery. He tells his students that both race and Jim Crow were instrumental in the founding of both cemeteries. Elmwood is predominantly white and features a white Confederate soldier statue that was erected in 2007. West Point is historically black and features a black Union soldier state that was erected in 1920. He gives his students a virtual tour of both cemeteries, with images from Google and his own, and encourages his students to go there in their own time. These statues are about 900 feet apart and are separated by a ten-foot brick wall. Leib writes that “the Confederate soldier stands guard over what was the city’s whites’ only Elmwood cemetery, while the black Union soldier stands guard over what was the city’s African American West Point Cemetery” (402).

West Point Cemetery was created because there was originally no public space for the African American community to bury and mourn the dead. It became the first African American cemetery in the 1870s, but the swampy ground did not make it suitable for burials and the city failed to provide the money necessary for improvements. It was christened in 1885 and a portion of it went specifically to black Union veterans, an estimated 100 veterans are buried there. The statue was erected in 1920 of Union soldier William Carney who was born into slavery in Norfolk in 1840. He would later escape north into Massachusetts and fight for the Union. Unfortunately, the statue was quickly forgotten about, but was later listed on a brochure of historic sites in Norfolk and was listed incorrectly.

Elmwood Cemetery boarders West Point Cemetery. The statue that is found just inside the gates was erected in 2007. Its granite base was placed there in 1912 with the intention of soon featuring a Confederate soldier, but the United Daughters of the Confederacy quickly ran out of money. In 2006, the UDC gained approval from the city and raised $5,000 to have a statue carved and placed on top of the base. The model for the statue was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. There appeared to be little opposition to this, but there were some who did oppose it.

Following the addition of the Confederate soldier to Elmwood Cemetery, local historian and activists, Curtis Alexander added an unfurled flag of the Composite National Standard Regimental Colors. Later, Elmwood Cemetery would respond by placing Confederate war flags on the graves of eleven white Confederate soldiers and fire artillery salutes to honor those dead.

He concludes that these two statues and two cemeteries serve as a metaphor for public memory and race overtime in the South. He stresses, as well, that we should read landscapes to better understand and be aware of what is and has not occurred in the local area.

“Slavery In American History”

In this section of the reading, author James Oliver Horton discusses how race is talked about in schools. He writes that most Americans believe that racial discrimination and isolation no longer affect achievement. The issue, Horton believes, is that there is little remembrance of history, specifically slavery, that is talked about and taught in public schools. What is taught enforces the romanticization of slavery and of America being the land of the free. Horton discusses how interpreters are asked to educate a misinformed public, who think slavery was only in the South, and are often reluctant to deal with history that can be personal. He also stresses that slavery was a significant economic and social institution that was a major contradiction to the nation’s purpose. Horton later discusses how slavery is not taught properly in schools and that it is rarely in textbooks. The issue here is that textbooks in college and public schools have not changed despite all of the recent scholarship. Part of this is what does not reach high school students has not reached their teachers. Once students get to college, the knowledge of American history is frequently limited and ideas about slavery are often stereotypical or nonexistent. Within President Clinton’s administration, there was an increase in federal education funding. Another idea was to have History High School which focuses on applying history into all the curriculum. The history of slavery is making its way into public schools via public and private programs that educate public schools teachers. He concludes the chapter by talking about the slave auction that was put on by Colonial Williamsburg. I found this section to be really interesting and that it gave a lot more information that I had previously known about the event. The very last section of this part of the reading talks about the planning for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

“Southern Comfort Levels”

In this chapter by Marie Tyler-McGraw, she discusses how race, heritage tourism, and the Civil War all affect Richmond, Virginia. All of this was put together in the idea of a new building project to revamp the riverfront area. This project would enlarge and reinterpret the Civil War exhibition that was present. On the Canal Walk, there was a large mural with thirteen panels, one of which had Robert E. Lee on it. This caused quite the issue and was later removed and replaced with a panel that featured General Lee in civilian clothes alongside President Lincoln and a black Union soldier. Richmond was once the central site of the production and maintenance of the Confederate version of the causes of the Civil War, which delayed the city’s desired transformation into the New New South’s banking, business, and governmental center. Some of the goals of the city’s white leadership were to memorialize the Confederacy, make Richmond part of the New South industrial economy, effectively separate the black and white populations, and plan public spaces. One way to get all of these goals together was to create a commemorate space for the Confederacy, aka Monument Avenue. Meanwhile, African American citizens had different ways of preserving the Richmond landscape – protests, parades, oral traditions, and counter-interpreting historical sites. Some thought that heritage tourism would help to show the parallel stories of Richmond in an effort to link both sides, seeing that African American tourism was a strong economic force. Later, the city would open new museums, rename old ones, and introduce new history, which included a statue of Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue. Many did not argue who it was, but where it was being placed, saying that it was specifically for Confederate heroes. Tyler-McGraw later examples how Richmond has residental areas that are still segregated and that Richmond is one of the most dramatic examples to show where mutliculturalism is very black and white.

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