I’ve been wanting to write a book about the history of Confederate monuments ever since the spring of 2017, when New Orleans completed the transformation of its Civil War commemorative landscape. I eventually dropped the idea having assumed that my window of opportunity had passed. Given some of the more recent debates and rallies at UNC-Chapel Hill and the continued removal of monuments, I no longer think this is the case. In fact, I now think we will be dealing with this issue for the foreseeable future.
One of the things that has held me back is the inability to envision the kind of book that I want to write. One thing I do know is that I don’t want to write an academic book about Confederate monuments and Civil War memory. That’s been done by a number of scholars. More importantly, I don’t think the general reader is interested in such a book.
Monuments are inanimate objects. Readers cannot empathize or sympathize with monuments, which limits the kind of story that I want to tell. I am now thinking that the best way to tell this story is through the eyes of a select group of people who can offer insight into the evolution of monument/memorial dedications and Civil War memory generally. In other words, the history of these monuments and related issues will unfold through the stories of these select individuals.
I am under no illusions that I can write as eloquently as Isabel Wilkerson, but think The Warmth of Other Suns as a model. Wilkerson’s book is a history of the Great Migration and its impact on American society, but it is told through the perspective of a select group of people, whose lives overlap and diverge in interesting ways.
Right now I am looking to explore the following time periods:
- postwar South/Reconstruction (dedication of monuments in cemeteries, 1865-1880)
- Jim Crow (height of Confederate monument dedications, 1890-1940)
- Civil Rights era (1950-1970)
- Charleston (2015) to the present
I have some idea as to the individuals that might be worth exploring to help frame each section, but I was also hoping that you might have some suggestions for me to consider. Any thoughts about what I have sketched out here will be much appreciated.