Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory - 2019.06.27

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Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory follows ongoing contests over the placement of monuments to the Confederacy and other forms of commemoration on public grounds and examines debates over their purpose and implications. This week, Smithsonian researchers look into how many taxpayer dollars are spent on preserving and protecting Confederate monuments, a series of teaching resources seeks to fill gaps in the way so-called hard history like slavery in the US is taught, and the connection between mythmaking and memory is explored, with interesting historical parallels drawn. 

Smithsonian investigators approach Confederate monuments from a new angle, seeking to understand the historical financing of commemorations to the Confederacy, whether physical structures like statues, homes, or properties or community events like Civil War reenactments. Though Brian Palmer and Seth Wessler note what many recognize now—namely that the most controversial monuments were erected under Jim Crow governments to assert dominance and power over African Americans, it might come as a surprise that since 2008, “taxpayers have directed at least $40 million to Confederate monuments … and to Confederate heritage organizations.” Palmer and Wessler utilize Jefferson Davis’s post-war residence, named Beauvoir, and several other sites across the South to illustrate how myths engendered by disenchanted Confederates following the Civil War, like Edward Pollard’s “Lost Cause,” are reinforced by contemporary displays, performances, and through misleading historical interpretation.

Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler,” The Costs of the Confederacy,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2018,


Jennifer Gonzalez explains how failure to adequately teach about slavery’s role in forming the United States has contributed to the inability of many to recognize and disassemble the fallacious statements often used by contemporary apologists to delegitimize questions about present inequities stemming from slavery. It is this so-called hard history that Gonzalez seeks to enable others to teach. Excerpts from an interview with Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University, host of the Teaching Hard History podcast, and Chair of the Teaching Hard History board, illustrate how resources created by Teaching Tolerance, a website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, aim to fill gaps in understanding at all levels, from students to faculty and administrators. Teaching Tolerance’s Framework for Teaching American Slavery, which includes a bibliography and compendium of additional resources, the Teaching Hard History podcast, and related SPLC reports are linked.

Jennifer Gonzalez, “Improving the Way We Teach About Slavery,” Cult of Pedagogy, June 17, 2018.


Martha S. Jones draws connections between myth and memory in the struggle for equal rights and representation by African Americans and women. New York City’s Public Design Commission recently approved Central Park’s first monument to commemorate the struggle for women’s rights. Of an original list of fifty proposed figures, Jones laments that the two chosen—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—“stood for a narrow, often racist vision of women’s rights.” The lesson, according to Jones, “is how the erection of statues can be an exercise in mythmaking; the irony of describing Stanton as “the ‘Thomas Jefferson of women,” when defending the decision, was lost on Myriam Miedzian, vice president of the statue fund. Jones notes several African American women who worked towards an inclusive understanding of all women’s rights like Sojourner Truth, or later groundbreaking heroes like Shirley Chisholm. Though the statues remain backed by supporters, others continue to strive for greater representation of the roles played by African American women in the struggle for equal rights, and by African Americans in building this nation.

Martha S. Jones, “How New York’s new monument whitewashes the women’s rights movement: It offers a narrow vision of the activists who fought for equality,” The Washington Post, March 22, 2019.

Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory is an H-Slavery discussion series on monuments and memorials commemorating the Confederacy and historical memory. Coming posts will feature updates and new information on battles over Confederate symbols in other states, and look into bills proposed in Congress regarding their placement and removal. Thoughts and ideas are invited, please share by replying below.