The Secret History of America’s Worthless Confederate MonumentsHistorians in the News
tags: memorials, Confederacy, art history
Most were erected long after the end of the Civil War, as the South sought to entrench Jim Crow. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, sold versions of a standard Confederate soldier’s statue for as little as $450. Then, as now, their purpose was not to mourn the loss of human life during the Civil War; rather, they were monuments to white supremacy, erected to communicate, both as architecture and adjuncts to urban planning, boundaries beyond which black citizens were not welcome. According to the historian Kevin M. Levin, the developers of Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, placed Confederate statues up and down the city’s central thoroughfare between 1880 and 1930 as part of a cheap marketing ploy to boost real estate prices in the all-white neighborhood of the West End. (As if the statues weren’t enough, the real estate company assured buyers “no lots can ever be sold or rented in MONUMENT AVENUE PARK to any person of African descent.”) More statues went up across the South after the Supreme Court handed down rulings, such as 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, to desegregate public schools.
People are only now starting to reckon with that legacy. In June, the Society of Architectural Historians issued a statement supporting the removal of Confederate monuments—the first time in the group’s 80-year history that it has lobbied to tear down an architectural structure. Unlike memorials such as the Stonewall Inn or Wounded Knee, Confederate monuments “do not serve as catalysts for a cleansing public conversation,” society officials wrote, “but rather express white supremacy and dominance, causing discomfort and distress to African-American citizens.”
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