The White Supremacist Roots of Confederate Monuments

I am always amazed by the hand-wringing that takes place for some when confronted with the undeniable evidence that the dedication of Confederate monuments was a moment to celebrate the virtues of those who fought for the Confederacy and the continued need to reaffirm white supremacy. These two goals were indistinguishable to white southerners during the Jim Crow-era.

Two examples demonstrate this point. The first took place in Lexington, Mississippi on December 2, 1908. Wiley Nash, a Confederate veteran offered the following remarks:

It may be asked, “What good purpose is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?” I answer:

(1) Besides honoring the South, the Southern cause, its supporters and brave defenders, the living and the dead, it will keep in heart and spirit the South, and her people for all time to come.

(2) It will keep honored and honorable, as the years roll on, the name and fame of the fathers and forefathers of our present and future dominant and ruling Southern Anglo-Saxon element, those who, “come weal, come woe,” are to mould, shape, fix, dictate, and control the destiny of the South and her people.

(3) It will educate each rising generation, each influx of immigration in our customs, traditions, thought and feeling, as well as in the esteem, love and admiration of the Southern people.

(4) It will help all others to form a correct idea of, a respect for our civil, religious, social and educational institutions.

(5) It will help to a true understanding of home rule and local self-government, contending for which the South lost so many of her best and bravest.

(6) It will serve to keep the white people of the South united — a thing so necessary — to keep, protect, preserve and transmit, our true Southern social system, our cherished Southern civilization, —

“And Dixie’s sons shall stand together,

Mid sunshine and in stormy weather,

Through lightning flashes and mountains sever,

    Count on the ‘Solid South’ forever.”

(7) Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.

(8) They will tell to Sovereign States from the Atlantic, where raged the fight that made us free, to the calm and placid waters of the Pacific, to States, if made from the isles of the sea, how sacred and how dear are the reserved rights of the States, reserved in the language of the Constitution to the States, or to the people.

(9) They will teach the South through all the ages to love the Southern Cause, her Southern soldier boys.

Nash believed that his dedication address could apply to any monument or memorial to the Confederacy. He was right. Taken together the monument landscape across the former Confederacy represented a shared history and a shared commitment to the present.

A few years later on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Julian Carr reminded his audience of their shared responsibility to uphold white supremacy with a personal story:

The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When ‘the bottom rail was on top’ all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers.

While Carr asks to be “pardoned” for dwelling on a personal experience, he appears not to think twice about sharing such a violent story with his neighbors. This obvious point is often overlooked.

The physical violence against a black woman and the new monument were both intended to achieve the same goal, namely the maintenance of white supremacy. In neither case is there any evidence that audiences disapproved of what they heard in these dedication speeches. These speeches rallied and united white southerners around a set of shared values.

It’s a mistake to suggest that removing Confederate monuments and memorials results in erasing history. We will always have their dedication addresses. Their racist roots will continue to be accessible to anyone interested.

Excerpts from both of these dedication addresses will be included in my Confederate monuments reader, which now has a co-editor and a very interested publisher. Stay tuned.

22 comments… add one
  • James Harrigan May 17, 2018

    These are great citations, thanks Kevin. Alas, the concept of “undeniable evidence” is fast disappearing from our public conversation.

    • Kevin Levin May 17, 2018

      Confederate veterans and white southerners generally rarely shied away from sharing the meaning that they attached to these monuments, especially during the Jim Crow-era.

  • Ken Noe May 17, 2018

    I quoted Nash in a talk in Montgomery last fall, thanks to an earlier reference on your blog. The audience and my fellow panelists were shocked at his candor, if not surprised.

  • Rob Baker May 17, 2018

    Will the proposed reader focus on modern monuments?

    The reason I ask is that even the SPLC study did little to contextualize the more recent upswing of Confederate monuments and various laws to prevent removal.

    • Kevin Levin May 17, 2018

      Yes, there are examples of recent monuments included. There is also a section devoted to the first wave of Confederate monument dedications in the period immediately following the war.

      • Rob Baker May 18, 2018

        Excellent. I know a lot of the commentary about recent monuments, such as the one in my home town, is mostly about the sesquicentennial and attempts to attract tourism. I’m curious if there is something more.

        I am looking forward to the reader.

  • Mike Furlan May 17, 2018

    Hence the famous “Central Theme” of Southern History, “a single resolve indomitably maintained” that the South “was and shall remain a white man’s country.”
    U.B. Phillips
    DOI: 10.2307/1836477
    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1836477

  • Simple Man May 17, 2018

    The Silent Sam speech proves the opposite. If the monuments were simply built to scare black people, he would have said so. A man who brags OPENLY about whipping a black woman is not a man who uses “dog whistles” (our modern buzzword of the week). These men were brass and bold, they said what they thought. If he says the monument is to honor dead soldiers, than by god i believe him.

    You cut off the part about 100 Yankees watching him whip her. I’m sure that was just for brevity and you’ll include the full context in your book.

    • Kevin Levin May 17, 2018

      Interesting interpretation.

      If I didn’t want anyone to read that particular passage, I would not have included the link. Silly Man 🙂

  • Simple Man May 17, 2018

    There is also far more to “anglo saxxon” than your quotes imply. You see anglo saxxon and read “white people.” Not true. Arent the French white? Germans? Irish?

    No, anglo saxxon freedom is defined in various sources as representative government, a freedom “won at Runnymede” and an achievement that Anglo Saxxon people alone could lay claim to. There is a whole book about this on Archive.org, and there are also magazine articles, all from 1890 – 1930. Anglo saxxon supremacy was the inherant value of representative government as compared to the despotism found in other countries. It was a white mans burden ideology that actually encouraged whites to help other races, not harm them.

    Read the book Anglo Saxxon Supremacy from 1915 and include its definitions as context for these speeches. The book is dated and somewhat racist to modern eyes I will agree, but the people were far more noble than you give them credit for. It wasnt only about race genetic superiority (this was before Hitler and his disgusting agenda), but rather Anglo Saxxons as the people who created and maintained free, representative government.

    • Kevin Levin May 17, 2018

      I applaud your ability to steer around the issue. Thanks for helping to reinforce the very first point in the post.

      • Simple Man May 17, 2018

        You have presented 2 snippets here, while there are hundreds of dedication speeches. Most contain no racist verbage at all and are indistinguishable from speeches given in the north. I’m sure you have no problem with that golden Shernam statue in NYC. What makes northen and southern monuments so different? Racism, probably. 😉

        You like innuendos. Instead of saying something, you IMPLY it, then act like you’ve sprung a trap on the person who took the bait. All the while thanking them condescendingly for their comment.

        Maybe I am hand wringing. So what? You’re pushing a deeply misleading agenda. But even taking your statements at face value, modern people can still honor the soldiers and their native culture while admitting that slavery was wrong. Its not all or nothing. Just because “the two goals were [allegedly] interchangeable” back then doesnt mean they still have to be.

        • Kevin Levin May 17, 2018

          You don’t have the courage to share your thoughts under your own name. On top of that you offer nothing in the way of an alternative interpretation beyond trying to undercut what Carr himself clearly states. You will excuse me if I don’t get worked up about this.

  • Msb May 17, 2018

    “4) It will help all others to form a correct idea of … our civil, religious, social and educational institutions.”
    Well, I suppose they do that.
    By the way, I’m reading Mitch Landrieu’s book with great enjoyment. Not just useful but well written.

  • HankC May 18, 2018

    Washington and Lee University has release it’s report on ‘Institutional History and Community ‘.

    It is interesting and comprehensive reading, including, but not limited to:

    the uses, changes and future of Lee Chapel,
    campus art,
    naming practices of buildings, sports teams (‘the Generals’) and the school itself,
    the items sold in the University store,
    and many more.

    The report may be dry to others, As an alumni, the issues, names, buildings and geography mentioned are well known.

    https://www.wlu.edu/presidents-office/issues-and-initiatives/commission-on-institutional-history-and-community/report-of-the-commission-on-institutional-history-and-community/part-ii-reflecting-on-the-legacy-of-the-past

  • Billy Bearden May 19, 2018

    For the past few years, a certain political group and willing media accomplices have pushed a narrative in Ft Myers FL that a bust of General Lee was erected in 1966 to oppose Civil Rights, keep the black man down, etc….

    This is what it looks like when that false narrative in fake news is suddenly exposed to the truth.

    http://www.nbc-2.com/story/38226332/documents-show-robert-e-lee-statue-part-of-co-ownership

    • Kevin Levin May 19, 2018

      Right, in 1913 African Americans would have seen it as part of their heritage. Nice try, Billy.

  • Mike Furlan May 19, 2018

    Inspector Billy (Clouseau) examines the crime scene and finds that White Supremacists did it, just not those White Supremacists.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfzXqwvtoEE
    You think you are pwning the Libs, but you just look silly, and the Reality Based World continues uninterrupted.

  • David McCallister May 20, 2018

    I trust the “White Supremacist Roots” of Abraham Lincoln will be included-

    From Lincoln’s Speech, Sept. 18, 1858.
    “While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making VOTERS or jurors of negroes, NOR OF QUALIFYING THEM HOLD OFFICE, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any of her man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    New York Times Archives – December 28, 1860

    • Kevin Levin May 20, 2018

      No, it won’t because it has nothing to do with the dedication of many of these monuments. I don’t know any one who denies that Lincoln embraced racist views of African Americans, but this also ignores his own evolution over the course of the war. Perhaps you should read this alongside his final public comments that broached the issue of the vote for some African Americans.

  • David R. McCallister May 20, 2018

    How about including this from the dedication of the Confederate veterans memorial “Memoria in Aeterna” in Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida- by Mr. H. S. Phillips in 1911 –
    “The South rejoices that slavery is abolished, and that we are a United Country and she ever stands ready to defend the Stars and Stripes and maintain the glory and honor of the Republic with the same courage and fortitude that she defended the Stars and Bars – but she will never teach her sons and daughters that that prolonged and terrific struggle on her part was a mere riot or mob, and that every man engaged in it was a conscious traitor, unworthy of trust and devoid of honor. To do so would be to trifle with truth and insult the common understanding of mankind. Reason rejects such a view of the subject as an absurdity, justice brands it as a falsehood; and the impartial historian scorns to transfer it to his immortal page.”

    • Kevin Levin May 20, 2018

      Thanks for passing this along. I have another similar dedication in the TOC.

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