A monument in Charlotte, North Carolina commemorating a Confederate reunion, which took place in 1929, has been vandalized for the second time this summer. While the tag #BlackLivesMatter has been seen on other Confederate monuments the message left in this case relates directly to the Charleston murders. The names of all nine victims were spray painted on one side while the message, “‘The Cause For Which They Fought—The Cause of Slavery Was Wrong'” was left on the other.

Confederate Monument, Charlotte
The following dedication appears on the monument:

  • GLORIA VICTIS – / “IN COMMEMORATION OF THE 39TH. ANNUAL REUNION OF / THE UNITED CONFEDERATE VETERANS AT CHARLOTTE, / NORTH CAROLINA, JUNE 4-7, 1929./ A STATE AND CITY’S TRIBUTE OF LOVE; IN GRATEFUL / RECOGNITION OF THE SERVICES OF THE CONFEDERATE / SOLDIERS WHOSE HEROISM IN WAR AND FIDELITY IN / PEACE HAVE NEVER BEEN SURPASSED / ACCEPTING THE ARBITRAMENT OF THE WAR, THEY PRESERVED / THE ANGLO-SAXON CIVILIZATION OF THE SOUTH AND / BECAME MASTER BUILDERS IN A RE-UNITED COUNTRY / – VERITAS VINCIT –

Confederate Monument, Charlotte
Additional information about the history of the monument can be found here.

It’s not clear whether these incidents will continue with the same frequency. At some point the city of Charlotte will be forced to decide whether it is worth appropriating funds for the maintenance of this monument, including fencing and other security measures. Other possibilities include removal to a safer location, which appears to be what city officials in Rockville, Maryland have decided.

I have to admit that I am torn in this particular case given the content of the monument. Let me be clear that laws covering public vandalism should be enforced, but this also needs to be seen as a political act in response to the murder of nine people by an individual who hoped to start a race war and who identified closely with Confederate iconography. The act is part of a vibrant and emotional national discussion about the place of these monuments on public ground. What we have in this particular case are competing claims on how the Civil War ought to be remembered in this community.

Many will disagree with the methods utilized here, but it fits comfortably in our nation’s long history of civil disobedience. It’s one that I believe we can handle, especially if it leads to a productive discussion about how communities remember their collective pasts.

About Kevin Levin

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33 comments add yours

  1. As much as I deplore the sentiment engraved upon the monument, I am against vandalism. Sure, I can see it as a free speech issue, and while I agree the southern cause was one I can never ever get behind, the vandalism just enflames those on the other side…I am not sure it actually leads to a dialogue. I hate the flagger runs for some of the same reasons, as in they generate much heat and very little light.

      • I wonder if the authorities could be persuaded to preserve it as it now is. I know some buildings at Pearl Harbor still have divots out of their walls from the attack. This strikes me as a similar situation.

        • Perhaps a better example are the sections of the Berlin Wall that have been preserved which contain layers of graffiti.

          • That’s an interesting way of looking at it. We could be living in a period that may take on more historical significance than we realize at the moment. Or not. Time will tell in that regard. In some ways it could be likened to the defacing and destruction of Royalist monuments prior to and during the Revolution.

            As for myself, I could be outraged at such vandalism but unless I want to be angry and bitter all the time I choose not to. There are much more important matters IMO to be outraged over so leave this one to others to wrestle with. I trust it will all work itself out one way or the other eventually, and I must confess to seeing a little poetic justice here anyways…

            • I strongly agree with Kevin and John that the monument with the spray painting on it has enormous educational value. I would love to see it preserved just as it is now, in a museum, to tell the tale of two eras in American history.

  2. Probably, the most bizarre and complicated history for a monument belongs to the obelisk that was erected to honor the White League’s role in the Reconstruction-Era Battle of Liberty Place. I found what appears to be an excellent discussion of how changes in attitude affected the placement and signage of the monument. This one is a little unusual because the “battle” involved a violent white supremacist effort to overturn the Reconstruction government of Louisiana and replace it with a white supremacist one. https://lagniappenola.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/an-unwanted-monument-the-controversial-liberty-place-obelisk/

  3. Not only the term “Anglo Saxon” but the use of the word “master” in this context, whether Freudian or on purpose, was an overt threat to any person of color reading this in 1929. A shameful monument that ought to be taken down. it disrespects the common solider who fought to protect family and neighbors and uses them to promote a racist agenda sixty plus years after their sacrifices.

    • it disrespects the common solider who fought to protect family and neighbors and uses them to promote a racist agenda sixty plus years after their sacrifices.

      The monument was dedicated at a reunion of Confederate veterans. Do you have any evidence from the event reflecting their disappointment with the choice of dedication? I doubt it.

      • Perhaps not. I wonder if many of the veterans still living then remembered what they actually did fight for after sixty plus years of their “cause” being reinterpreted and re-imagined for them by latter day Southern leaders and politicians with their own agendas.There was doubt among the everyday Confederate solider as to the righteousness of their cause immediately after the war.Most of that doubt was soon erased as the spin doctors of the day gave them a new narrative that was more acceptable to them and their families.

        • If you believe that a dedication unveiled at a veterans gathering failed to represent their outlook than it is up to you to find the evidence.

      • I agree, Kevin. My belief is that since many, if obviously not all, people have broken away from the reprehensible racism of the past, there is now a strong desire to absolve one’s ancestors as well…..”my ancestors were honorable people so they wouldn’t have supported slavery or racism, because those things are dishonorable.” While I am a descendant of Union veterans, many of them had their roots in slave holding families of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I have been able to trace when the split took place, but only one ancestor left a written record — in the manumission papers he issued about the turn of the 19th century, where he wrote of how he realized the desire of all men to be free. I can only speculate about why other members of the same families continued to hold on to their enslaved people and fight for the CSA. .I am very sad they took that route and took up arms against their country.

        • I’m pretty much in the same boat, ancestor-wise that is. Out of those in the direct line who were actually here when the Civil War occurred, I have mostly Union vets (including one from Maryland whose father at least was a slave-owner). Yet I do have a couple of Confederates as well, most of whom didn’t own slaves that as far as I can tell thus far. Since I have nothing from any of them to tell me about why they fought, what they thought about slavery or race, etc., it’s really all speculation. It’s reasonable to assume based on what we know of the times that most of them were racist by our standards today. I would also say that it’s reasonable that a few believed in the institution of slavery in some fashion. I could be wrong though about any of them so really all I can do is accept them for what I know about them and the times.

      • Also, it begs the question of what was the nature of the peril from which they believed they were protecting their family and neighbors when they went to war. A fascinating case study can be found in the Texas Troubles of 1860 during which many whites convinced themselves that a series of major wildfires (likely caused by an extraordinarily hot summer and the introduction of a very volatile type of phosphorous matches) were in fact arson committed as part of a conspiracy between Northern abolitionists and local slaves. Vigilance committees took over and anywhere from 30 to 100 whites and blacks were killed. The panic ran its course but secessionists exploited the panic (and added Lincoln and the Republican Party to the ranks of alleged conspirators) to increase substantially support for Texas joining the rebellion. (Citation: Donald E. Reynolds, “TEXAS TROUBLES,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/vetbr), accessed August 04, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.)

    • I had to laugh a bit at the Anglo-Saxon bit. Much of my ancestry is English on my mother’s side, but neither grandparent ever mentioned it. The lines were always Scots-Irish, and Dutch or German! Anglo-Saxon must be a tidewater thing rather than piedmont (Appalachia).

      • When my mother was getting her master’s degree, she had a classmate whom she found distinctly irritating. Although this guy was of totally Irish ancestry, he kept blathering on about being Anglo-Saxon and thus, superior. My mother who was 100% of Scottish ancestry (Her father was the only member of his Scottish family who emigrated to the US. Her mother was born here of Scottish parents who were naturalized US citizens. They returned to Scotland when she was 8 and she only returned in her mid-twenties after she married my grandfather and they emigrated to the US) pointed out to him that he was no more of Anglo-Saxon ancestry than she was.

  4. Have been curious about language and context as it changed after the war, in particular the term “Anglo-Saxon.” I’m not up to speed on recent whiteness studies, but I take it to be linked more to turn-of-the-20th Century advances in anthropology, hard sciences, the closing of the frontier, and American colonial ventures.

    So when they invoked “Anglo-Saxon” in 1929, they were talking about 1929, not 1861. This particular monument is explicit in this regard—more so than monuments that specifically reference 1861-1865. (It is, after all, a monument to a reunion.) We know that the flurry of early 20th Century monument building was a reaction to a variety of transformations in society well after the war, from the aging veteran population, to rampant industrialization, to the reassertion of white supremacist power in southern state governments. But this term suggests that the creation of a memory and narrative of the war in the broader memorial landscape was made more deeply complex by the way they retrojected an evolving ideology of race.

    Check out this completely non-scientific N-Gram chart on the use of the term. Peaks right when this monument went up. I think it’s not just the use of in-vogue words, but represents something more. Recognizing this helps better explain the UCV’s favorable, if condescending, opinion on “negro education” you Tweeted earlier. Makes no sense otherwise.

    Anyhow, does this mean that I’m trying to deflect from the explicit racial intent of the Confederacy in 1861. No. Do these fine differences mean anything historically? I’m sure they do. Is noting these differences marking my own privilege? Probably. Do these differences mean much to the activists and the narrative they’re developing here? I suspect not. Do public historians have to make room for that? Yes.

    Also, while I’m against vandalism yadda yadda…. this is a really good example and ought to be preserved.

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. I would only add that I think the reference to “Anglo-Sason” supremacy extended beyond the South. However, I don’t quite follow your distinction between 1929 and 1861 given that we are talking about a monument dedicated during a reunion of men who fought that war.

      • You’re right, Kevin, that Anglo-Saxonism was no “southern peculiarity”. Here is a wikipedia article that gives a survey of one aspect of the subject.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Anglo-Saxon_Protestant

        The monument text seems reunionist, in its claim for the southern white population to be participants with the WASP northern element in the building of a greater US. Probably the most influential Anglo-Saxonist was Josiah Strong–no southerner he.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Strong

        The monument text may also reflect the influence of the multivolume _The South in the Building of the Nation_, edited by Edwin Mims, published in the early 1900s.

  5. Absolutely. By this time, I understand, the Anglo-Saxon concept was a version of white supremacy embraced by the larger Northern European/Atlantic world. Not that white supremacy was ever limited to the south, but that which the Confederacy embraced in 1860 was of a different–though no less violent–dynamic. This monument celebrated the 1929 version of white supremacy–one that could accommodate a favorable view of African American higher education. Wish I had the historiography at hand to articulate this better.

    That’s the historical distinction between 1929 and 1861. I guess I’m making that distinction because, as you and the monument itself note, it is a memorial for a veterans reunion in 1929, not the Confederacy of 1861. That difference will likely get collapsed in the larger discussion about monuments to the Confederacy. Perhaps I’m nit-picking. It certainly doesn’t matter to the activists, for whom the outcome is always the same. I doubt the creators dwelt on the difference as much as I am and it could be that I’m pointing out the blindingly obvious!

    • That definitely helps. Thanks, Chris.

      This monument celebrated the 1929 version of white supremacy–one that could accommodate a favorable view of African American higher education.

      I agree. In fact, this interpretation compliments my own understanding of why former Confederate states passed legislation granting former camp servants pensions. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that one-page spread on black education. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Perhaps a post at some point.

  6. By committing vandalism, they’re just giving Dylann Roof the race war he wanted.

    • Really? It’s not as if vandalizing monuments in public spaces is something new. Equating vandalism with a race war is just a bit over the top.

      • “Equating vandalism with a race war is just a bit over the top.”

        Perhaps “war” is a bit bombastic. Would “race conflict” be more appropriate? My point is that Roof wants racial conflict in American and the vandals are giving it to him. I feel the same way about the people leaving Confederate flags at Martin Luther King’s church. On Facebook, there are white people beating their chests and saying stuff like, “if they vandalize the Confederate monument, we should vandalize the MLK monument.” All of it fans the flames and none of it is constructive.

        Spray painting monuments doesn’t make white people stop and think about societal inequalities; it just pisses them off and makes them more polarized. Just like how the Flaggers didn’t change any minds with their shenanigans.

        And why does it matter whether vandalizing monuments is new or not? I never claimed it was new.

        • Thanks for the follow-up.

          My point is that Roof wants racial conflict in American and the vandals are giving it to him.

          I don’t think he is being given anything that isn’t already present in our society. Tragic events often lead to national debates/discussions.

          And why does it matter whether vandalizing monuments is new or not? I never claimed it was new.

          Sorry about that. I was venting about much of what I’ve read from people who claim it is always wrong to vandalize monuments. I don’t remember hearing many Americans complain when Saddam Hussein’s monument was pulled down and I suspect that most people don’t worry too much about monuments to King George III that were pulled down at the beginning of our Revolution.

        • sounds to me like you’re assuming the vandal(s) is(are) African American. What would the evidence be? Is it still a race conflict if vandals and angry people are all white?

          And “race war” is a very over-the-top description of an event resulting in precisely no dead bodies, in contrast to the 9 people memorialized in the graffiti.

  7. The wording used on this monument is especially interesting. It really goes the extra mile and addresses in carved word what many, even 3-4 generations after the war, still thought. A 1929 reunion was NOT a well-attended affair so in many ways it a reflection of those who were at the reunion but also those who wrote the text and erected the monument.

    I am very curious as to whether those doing the spray painting are choosing a convenient target or if the verbiage is sparking the reaction. It appears this same monument was cemented just recently and another small marker put up in 1977 was tagged and has been removed for cleaning.

    • A 1929 reunion was NOT a well-attended affair so in many ways it a reflection of those who were at the reunion but also those who wrote the text and erected the monument.

      Good point. I also wonder about the verbiage. It could simply come down to the fact that it’s a flat surface.

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