Two-Minute Topic: Civil War Monuments

Well after the Civil War, we have the Reconstruction Period and the Federal government trying to enforce civil rights for freed slaves, and many blacks get elected to state and local offices in the South as well as a few members of congress. But reconstruction comes to an end around 1876, when white supremacists had reasserted themselves in the southern states. They instituted Jim Crow racial segregation in the South, and so by the 1890s black Americans have been pretty much driven out of the political arena in the southern states and whites had reasserted their control of the 11 confederate states of the South. As a result the monuments begin to appear in the 1880s and then 1890s, they pick up the pace at the turn of the century. From the 1800s to the 1900 you see an increase in the number of monuments that are being constructed. They’re reaching out from cemeteries, many of the initial monuments were cemeteries for confederate soldiers who had been killed in the war. But, one sees the monuments appearing in town squares and other prominent places and so, this monument construction continues well into the 1920s and the 1930s. They symbolize really an effort on the part of partisans of the southern cause to present the southern cause as a noble fight for liberty. So, these generals who figure prominently like, Robert E. Lee, in the monuments fought for a very noble cause. So, that the monuments really try to portray that as a cause that was as equaling noble as the union cause. The southern monuments really also celebrate white supremacy. Most of these monuments really celebrate the rise of white supremacy in the South, through the the ultimate victory of southern whites in the long term Civil War that have lost on the battlefield but, politically the monuments indicate political victories that emerge in the early 20th century as the South becomes a powerful voting block in congress as well. So, you know one of the indicators of the fact that these monuments really celebrate white supremacy, is that we don’t see statutes for example to, Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Longstreet was one of the Robert E. Lee’s main lieutenants. But, after the civil war he embraced the right of black men to vote. He was the police chief of New Orleans, in which capacity in the early 1870s he actually had gun battles with white supremacists trying to take over the city. So we see lots of monuments to Robert E. Lee and other confederate generals but, for some reason we don’t see any of general Longstreet. I think that’s because of his sentiments he expressed after the Civil War.

Stephen Childs

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