Looks like the stand-off between the Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the American Civil War Center at Tredegar will continue over the statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber. You may remember that the SCV spent $100,000 on a new statue of Davis holding hands with his “adopted black son” Jim Limber to be placed next to the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar. The statue is close to completion; however, the ACW Center stipulated that the donation of the statue would be accepted with no preconditions attached or even a guarantee that it would be displayed at all. At the time I argued that this placed the SCV in a very difficult position since they could not pull out of the deal and blame the museum for failing to acknowledge their heritage, and even if they did go along with the deal it would be unlikely that the display of such a statue would prove to be satisfactory to the SCV.
Cristinia Nuckols, who is an editorial writer for the Virginian-Pilot, suggests that the funds spent on the Davis-Limber statue could have been allocated much more effectively on the maintenance of Confederate monuments throughout the city, which are in serious need of maintenance. Keep in mind that Richmond is already home to five Davis statues:
There’s the bronze statue on Monument Avenue, a life-sized version at his grave in Hollywood Cemetery, and three busts in the White House of the Confederacy, the Valentine Richmond History Center and the state Capitol. The latter is placed, in an ironic non sequitur, over a plaque that reads “Capitol Disaster.”
As Nuckols notes in the article, every year the Richmond community scrambles to raise funds to maintain these important historical. To spend $100,000 on another Davis statue when the SCV could have led the charge in maintaining those beautiful statues along Monument Avenue and elsewhere is not only reflective of mismanagement on the part of Brag Bowling and others, but a sign that the organization is losing its way. This is about as silly as the placement of massive Confederate flags along major highways throughout the South. One hundred thousand dollars spent and now Bowling and the SCV are scrambling for a home for their paean to the Lost Cause and bad history.
The news isn’t much better for the UDC and SCV in Maryland, which recently learned that they will not be able to use a room on the Johns Hopkins University campus for an upcoming Lee-Jackson Day event. According to the SCV’s blog, a Hopkins representative stated that they were being denied because they are a “Confederate organization.” It’s hard to know what to make of this given that the university has rented out the building to the SCV since 1988. Perhaps there is more to this story than what is currently being shared? Well, it hasn’t prevented the usual suspects from crying PC and every other chant in their repotoire. No surprise that our good friend Richard Williams sees it as a sign of the political corruption and liberal bias that has infiltrated college campuses throughout the country. Of course, Williams conveniently ignores the fact that for the past twenty years the university has welcomed the SCV to their campus. That seems like a pretty good track record for a leftist leaning/revisionist/anti-Southern [and whatever else you want to throw into the mix] university.
There is nothing more disturbing for an educator than to come across children’s books whose authors have little qualification as historians
or who have an implicit agenda to get across. Such is the case with Rickey Pittman’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. Here is the jacket description:
The true story of the adopted black child of Jefferson Davis. Jim Limber Davis was rescued from an abusive guardian by Varina Davis when he was only five years old. Jefferson and Varina Davis welcomed him into their home, the Confederate White House, as one of the family, and Jim lived with them until the fall of the Confederacy. When Union soldiers invaded Richmond, Virginia, they captured Jefferson Davis. Later, they kidnapped Jim Limber in Georgia and spread cruel rumors that he was Jefferson Davis’s slave. This true story provides a glimpse of how Jim was accepted as one of the Davis’s children and reveals their family’s love and compassion for him.
As John Coski noted in his short essay there is a great deal that we do not know about this story. Pittman seems comfortable giving Limber the Davis name, though there are no records to demonstrate that Limber was officially adopted. With any other publisher I would be disappointed, but in this case we are dealing with Pelican, which is one of the most unreliable and agenda-driven publishers out there. The author’s personal website can be found here. He is an active member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Camp Thomas McGuire in West Monroe, Louisiana.
Pittman also provides an online study guide to accompany this book. Students can play games that Limber would have played or inquire into his whereabouts as did Jefferson Davis after the war. Students can draw a picture of the Confederate White House where Limber lived, though I wonder if the family’s slaves are expected to be included in such a drawing. Even better are the statistics on free blacks that Pittman compiled from James and Walter Kennedy’s books, The South Was Right and Myths of American Slavery.
This is a disturbing book that is based on an overly simplistic view of slavery, free blacks, and Jefferson Davis’s own personal history as a slaveowner and leader of a nation whose stated goal was the preservation of slavery. The current push to commemorate this story in marble is based on little more than the outline of this story and it should concern all of us who hope to continue to expand and deepen our understanding of this crucial moment in America’s past.
Richard Williams recently posted a short article by historian John Coski on the relationship between Jim Limber and the Davis family, which appeared in the winter issue of the Museum of the Confederacy’s newsletter. While Coski does point to mutual bonds of affection between Jim Limber and the Davis family, he also suggests that there are many questions that cannot be answered. This, of course, could change in the future. While Coski does not address the debate surrounding the proposed statue of Limber and Davis, his analysis does bring the question of whether such a statue is justified based on the available evidence into sharp relief. Is the Sons of Confederate Veterans justified in proposing a statue based on such limited evidence? If so, why? What precedent would this set in terms of the way we go about commemorating and remembering other moments in American history in our public spaces? Finally, I hope Mr. Williams is not operating under the assumption that Coski’s essay ought to be interpreted as tacit support for this proposed statue. If anything the essay highlights the wide gulf between what serious historians can legitimately conclude about this relationship and the message that a marble statue will no doubt communicate. You will find Coski’s essay below.