What Monument Avenue Does

There was nothing inevitable about the end of slavery in the United States. Enslaved people fueled this country’s economy, generated great amounts of wealth for their owners, and helped to define American Exceptionalism for many, who envisioned a greater role on the world stage for this slave holding nation.

One of them was Matthew Fontaine Maury. Born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, Maury went on to become an accomplished oceanographer and explorer, but his fascination with the world beyond this country’s shores was wrapped up in a vision of slavery’s expansion. He was one of the architects of a foreign policy that sought to strengthen slavery’s place in the United States and the western hemisphere.

I have seen the African slave population of America clustered in and around the border of the [Caribbean] Sea. I have seen this Sea, by Ship canal and Isthmus highways placed midway between Europe and Asia. It is between two Continents, it receives the drainage of the two greatest river basins in the world, it is natural for the produce of two hemispheres and I have therefore seen in it the Cornu Copia of the world. [Quoted in M. Karp This Vast Southern Empire, (p. 144)]

Maury hoped to utilize the power of the federal government and the military to strengthen slavery in the United States and throughout the western hemisphere at a time when it was being challenged on multiple fronts.

“And then the war came.”

Maury’s vision came to fruition with the establishment of the Confederate States of America in 1861. As its first and only president, Jefferson Davis led the attempt to establish an independent slave holding nation.

Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart strung together impressive military victories to help make this dream a reality. Every victory, every advance into the United States brought the Confederacy closer to realizing its vision and strengthening slavery.

By 1865 that dream had crumbled. The attempt to protect slavery through secession and war ultimately undermined it. The Union army and legislation in D.C. all played a role, but arguably the most important factor proved to be the slaves themselves, who understood early on that they could steer events and the war toward freedom.

What few people could have anticipated in 1861 had come to fruition just four short years later. The end of slavery in 1865 is the most important event in Virginia history in the nineteenth century.

Monument Avenue denies that it ever took place.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

21 comments… add one
  • Julian Jul 2, 2017 @ 3:08

    OTOH Jack Linchuan Qiu’s Goodbye iSlave UI 2016 press points out that slavery is still with us, in multiple guises, it does not need shackles or bloodhounds or men in white suits whipping people with darker skins

    …”Focusing on the alliance between Apple and the notorious Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, Jack Linchuan Qiu examines how corporations and governments everywhere collude to build systems of domination, exploitation, and alienation … circumstances with vivid parallels in the Atlantic slave trade. Ironically, the fanatic consumption of digital media also creates compulsive free labor that constitutes a form of bondage for the user”

    Monument Avenue is not the point, (and that is why I was fairly sceptical about Mitch Landrieu’s theatrical act of urban visual censorship and his copious self praise and those who are tied up with the singularities of US culture who see it as a “solution” ) … exploitation of the living did not die in 1865, nor was/is it solely connected with the US South. It is still happening around us, and in multiple ways, that are less obviously inflected upon direct possession or sharp racial divisions, think of the profits that banks make from clients – e.g. mortgages (which in the subprime crisis did have a racial element), or the aged care industry to name a couple of examples … sticking with the Civil war tells only part of the story

    Indeed as I suggested above Monument Avenue is not only conservative, it concurrently subverts Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Darwinism and corporatism’s love of the winner , not that SCV would get that idea

    • Kevin Levin Jul 2, 2017 @ 3:18

      I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that “exploitation” is still with us, but the debate about the monuments in NOLA and elsewhere is about how they function or give meaning to those specific communities. Also important to remember that Landrieu’s speech came at the end of a grass roots movement in NOLA to remove those monuments. It clearly meant something significant to them.

  • Tim Jun 29, 2017 @ 19:50

    As usual another Holy north against the evil South blog. All Yankees are saints. blah blah blah

    • Kevin Levin Jun 30, 2017 @ 0:26

      As usual, another overly simplistic comment that does little more than expose the insecurities of its author.

  • Walter Los Jun 28, 2017 @ 4:52

    As noted in “Confederates in the Attic”, Richmond is the only city in the world that honors failed revolutionaries, losers, in such a grand manner.

    • Julian Jul 2, 2017 @ 2:51

      and perhaps that is why the world needs material cultural evidence to such anti-Darwinian and neo-Liberal concepts more than it realises ….

  • Msb Jun 28, 2017 @ 3:05

    Powerful essay, thank you.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2017 @ 3:20

      You are very welcome. Glad to hear it resonated with you.

  • Connie Chastain Jun 26, 2017 @ 8:36

    “Enslaved people… generated great amounts of wealth for their owners…”

    And for New England’s maritime interests, and the northeast’s textile industry, and northern banks and insurance companies. .. but of course, that was okay, because they weren’t SOUTHERNERS. Only Southerners associated with slavery were eeeeeville. Northerners associated with slavery were not eeeeeeville.

    That is the whole theme of your blog. It’s sickening.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 26, 2017 @ 8:40

      This is a point I have made over and over on this blog. Yet for some reason you conveniently ignore this. I guess it reinforces your childish outlook and and naive distinction of good v. evil.

      In addition, there has been an incredible outpouring of recent scholarship that highlights just this point and I have covered it extensively on this blog.

      OK Connie, time to head back to your kook cave.

      • woodrowfan Jun 28, 2017 @ 4:37

        “The Kook Cave”?? I now envision something like The Bat Cave in the 1960s Batman, only with Confederate stuff everywhere. And the “General Lee” instead of the Batcar. 😉

        • Kevin Levin Jun 28, 2017 @ 4:41

          Exactly. 🙂

    • hankc9174 Jun 26, 2017 @ 14:54

      please point us to the secession documents of the ‘New England’s maritime interests, and the northeast’s textile industry, and northern banks and insurance companies’.

      • Kevin Levin Jun 26, 2017 @ 17:05

        Please don’t encourage her. 🙂

      • Jimmy Dick Jun 26, 2017 @ 17:57

        Come on, you know she can’t use primary sources. She might learn something which would challenge her delusional fantasies.

        • hankc9174 Jun 27, 2017 @ 12:57

          what i’m getting at is that the memorials should be removed as they are monuments to men who took up arms against the united states.

          It doesn’t matter if they were slave-owners, whiskey sellers or tax evaders.

  • bob carey Jun 25, 2017 @ 5:54

    I have been interested in the Civil War and its’ aftermath since I was a teenager, strictly as an amateur, but after all these years (about 50 or so) it still amazes me that the white people of the South would expend monies and effort to commemorate their devastating loss. The war destroyed their society, their infra-structure, and their economy, let alone nearly cost them a generation of their young men. Imagine what the monuments would look like if they won!!!

  • Kristoffer Jun 24, 2017 @ 8:49

    “Monument Avenue denies that it ever took place.”
    Powerful words. One wonders if Ed Sebesta will pay attention to them before he continues distributing that 10,000-word essay about you.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 24, 2017 @ 9:35

      I am sure he will figure out how to frame this as just another indication of my “banal white nationalism.” 🙂

      • Julian Jul 2, 2017 @ 2:49

        must say that I can never work out Sebesta’s attitude to you as you seem to speak and write about the civil war in a synchronous manner – is it because there should be only one Cinderella at the ball of anti-Confederate discussion ?

        • Kevin Levin Jul 2, 2017 @ 2:51

          I certainly think that this is part of it, but I don’t want to speculate about how his mind works.

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