This is an interesting story out of Franklin County, Virginia. Two years ago their Confederate monument, which was dedicated in 1910 was struck by an out-of-control driver and all but destroyed. Local leaders raised the necessary funds to build a new monument and plan to dedicate it in August only this time around there is also a push to include a marker that acknowledges the Civil War experiences of African Americans. Just what that experience involved seems to be a matter of some debate. First, it is difficult to imagine that an additional marker would be on the table had the original statue not been destroyed. I suspect that a re-dedication on public land at a time when these symbols have come under increased scrutiny is part of what is at issue here.
The community group responsible for this new marker includes Francis Amos, a doctor; Franklin County Circuit Court Judge William Alexander; members of the Jubal Early Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy; and several other black historians, educators and local leaders. The marker/pillar would include the following:
In commemoration of the many contributions, service and sacrifices on the home front and on the battlefront by People of Color, enslaved and free, from Franklin County during the War Between the States. (1861-1865).
You couldn’t ask for a vaguer inscription. In contrast to most Confederate soldier monuments, which clearly state why they fought, died, and sacrificed this marker commits to nothing and yet ensures that any narrative will be framed around a reference to the war that is commonly used by the UDC and other heritage organizations to distance slavery and emancipation from our collective memory of the war. Florella Johnson, who is the president of the local chapter of the NAACP expressed concern that the additional marker was not enough, though the article does not say why.
The African-American community has already expressed concern about the symbolism of a Confederate monument and what it might take to rectify the situation:
Ashley Childress, for one, said she was happy to learn the statue was damaged, and the county shouldn’t replace it. “It shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” said Childress, a lifelong resident of Rocky Mount. “If there was a slave in front of the courthouse, people would probably be burning crosses on everyone’s doorstep.” April Camp, walking near the site Friday, said the statue should not be put back up in front of the courthouse, but instead in one of the war memorials. “We shouldn’t put something up that is so offensive to so many people,” Camp said. “The courthouse is supposed to be a place of freedom and justice. Why would we put a statue there that symbolizes anything but freedom and justice?” Darlene Swain, who runs the annual Warren Street Heritage Festival honoring black history in the town, said she is not against the statue’s being replaced, but that if one is in front of the courthouse it should be inclusive of the entire community. “I’m for anything that’s positive,” Swain said. “If we are going to celebrate history let’s celebrate the entire history. We should have a black Confederate soldier there, too.”
I have no idea what Ms. Swain means by “Black Confederate” but she may be referring to those slaves who were impressed by the state government to work on fortifications and other war-related projects. Francis Amos would like the marker to commemorate these individuals.
“Blacks kept the plantations going on the home front,” Amos said. About 300 Franklin County slaves were sent to Richmond and Petersburg to build military forts, he said. “We felt it only proper to accord them the recognition and honor they deserved.”
It will be interesting to see how this story plays out. Unlike the dedication of the original Confederate statue in 1910 both white and black residents are now able to voice their opinions about how public lands are utilized to remember local history.
My only question is why in 2010 can’t a monument that commemorates free and enslaved African Americans include a reference to emancipation and freedom? I have no doubt that the inscription on the new Confederate monument will educate the general public as to why Confederates fought. If the current inscription holds for the additional marker the general public will learn that free and enslaved African Americans sacrificed, served, and contributed to the battle front and home front.
Did the war and its outcome mean anything more to African Americans?