I get a kick out of the editorials and short essays by Calvin Johnson, which you can find at such places as Lew Rockwell and the Conservative Free Press. Given the last few posts on the mythology of black Confederates I thought it might be nice to share another little story. Yes, I am beating a dead horse, but if this blog can help to correct this skewed view of the past than my time on this site will be worthwhile. In this essay, Johnson examines the history of the monument to Confederate soldiers, which is located on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The monument was organized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to mark the graves of 267 Confederate soldiers. Designed by Moses Ezekiel, it was unveiled in 1914 and included a dedication speech by President Woodrow Wilson. Here is what Johnson has to say about the monument itself:
Around the start of the 20th century this country also honored the men who fought for the Confederacy. This site of men who fought for “Dixie” is located in section 16. There is an inscription on the 32.5 foot high Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery that reads, “An Obedience To Duty As They Understood it; These Men Suffered All; Sacrificed All and Died”! Some claim this Confederate Monument at Arlington may have been the first to honor Black Confederates. Carved on this monument is the depiction of a Black Confederate who is marching in step with the White soldiers. Also shown is a White Confederate who gives his child to a Black woman for safe keeping.[my emphasis]
What exactly is Johnson referring to? The photographs below are close-ups of the freezes included around the perimeter of the monument.
You can see what appears to be a black man marching in rank with Confederate soldiers as a well as a female slave who is about to take charge of what must be her master’s children. This is a wonderful example of why the study of memory is so important to our understanding of the Civil War. To understand this statue and the choices of the sculptor we must understand the historical context in which it was dedicated. Monuments and other public spaces dedicated to historic events are as much about the time in which they were build as they are about the event in question. The year, 1914, places us right at the height of Jim Crow. The images helped to justify the emphasis within Lost Cause narratives of loyal slaves and a war that was supposedly fought simply for states rights. Wilson’s presence at the dedication is also important given his order at just this time to segregate federal office buildings along racial lines. In other words, this is not simply a monument to commemorate the lives of Confederate soldiers, but part of an attempt to shape a certain version of the past that worked to minimize the theme of emancipation and distance the Confederate experiment from the preservation of slavery altogether. The enforcement of white supremacy by legal means helped to ensure that African Americans would be unable to shape their own emancipationist legacy of the Civil War, which in turn helped to perpetuate the political monopoly that whites enjoyed through the 1960s.
Unfortunately, Calvin Johnson doesn’t really understand what he is looking at.