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.