Statues and Residential Space

History of Reconstruction

Although Lee’s statue was not unveiled until 1890, it fits into the wider history of Reconstruction and national reconciliation, which began after the Civil War in 1865. After the Civil War, which was fought over the divisive issue of racialized American slavery, the U.S. had a number of issues, most acutely the issue of race. David Blight’s Race and Reunion traces the first fifty years after the Civil War in the U.S. and focuses on how race was the central force in how Americans struggled to remember and forget the war. He specifically says the story of Reconstruction is about “…how the inexorable drive for reunion both used and trumped race.”[1] Throughout the fifty years post-war, the reconciliationist vision merged with the white supremacist vision of the war and overrode, but did not remove completely, African Americans’ emancipationist visions of freedom during Reconstruction. By 1913, Reconstruction days – in terms of African American citizenship and political rights – were already in the past and viewed as “radical.” The North’s embrace of Civil War historical fiction, the return of the Confederate flag in 1905, and the resurgence of Civil War films all contributed to sectional reunion trumping racial reunion by 1913.[2] These cultural and political moments alongside others, such as the increased activity of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and federal and state segregationist policies during this era, demonstrates an explicit return to subjugating African Americans and continuing a white supremacist agenda. 

Blight argues that reunion post-war shifted from white and black national reconciliation to North and South sectional reconciliation. Reunion was about the South distancing themselves from the war and the reasons for the war, thus evoking a collective amnesia or forgetting about slavery and race itself.[3] Additionally, Michael Kammen claims that memory is activated by contestation and amnesia is induced for reconciliation.[4] The former is true in terms of modern-day protests around monuments and the latter reflects the South’s strategy for Civil War memory during and after Reconstruction. Yet these cultural moments of Confederate flags, statues, and Old South nostalgic films still activate the memory of slavery and race but in distinct and selective ways. 

Monument-building was a vehicle for selective remembering, sectional reconciliation, and vindication in the aftermath of the Civil War. Kirk Savage argues that before the Civil War, monuments and statues were very rare in the U.S. but after the war, the country saw an explosion of these statues. After the Civil War, a small number of African American statues appeared in the North, but they were mostly unflattering depictions or were alongside Abraham Lincoln, who became a white savior figure of emancipation.[5] On the other hand, after the war in the South, public discussions of memorials were around building monuments and cemeteries to mourn the death of Confederate soldiers.[6] Once federal government intervention and Reconstruction ended officially in the late 1870s and early 1880s, Karen Cox argues that cultural values of the Lost Cause and Confederate monument-building enthusiastically increased throughout the South. The United Daughters of the Confederacy organization in particular built monuments to “vindicate Confederate men,” shifting from mourning to celebrating Confederate soldiers.[7] It is no coincidence that the UDC’s headquarters were established and remain in Richmond and that one of their major projects was the fundraising and construction of the Jefferson Davis statue in Richmond, which was the third addition to Monument Avenue in 1907.            Richmond was uniquely the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, but like other cities in the South, it had residents that were not only trying to culturally and politically reconcile the South’s defeat but were also trying to rebuild the economy. Reiko Hillyer discusses how Richmond and other cities in the South wanted to promote and encourage Northern tourism to help rebuild their cities post-war but also to simply be a player in the new economic game of industrialization taking hold of urban spaces in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.[8] Sarah Driggs et. al. claims that Richmond recovered rapidly during Reconstruction mostly because of Northern investment in brick and “cast-iron-fronted buildings.”[9] Hillyer points out that Richmond became even more successful in the 1880s, thanks to Northern investment, Northern tourism and the tobacco industry with its black labor force. Hillyer particularly points out the ways that elite businessmen selected different parts of Richmond’s history to draw different visitors: the revolutionary heritage for Northern tourists and the Confederacy for veteran visitors.[10] This highlights the North’s role in helping reconstruct the South by selecting political and financial reunion while ignoring the racial issues implied over the cultural landscape of rejuvenating the Lost Cause. It seems for the North, too, “reunion trumped race.”[11]

[1] David Blight. Race and Reunion: The Civil War and American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, 2.

[2] Blight, 383.

[3] Berber Bevernage. History, Memory, and State-Sponsored Violence: Time and Justice. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2012.; Blight. 

[4] Michael Kammen. Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. New York, NY: Knopf Inc., 1991. 13. 

[5] Kirk Savage. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018, 87.

[6] Karen Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy Preservation of Confederate Culture. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003, 66.

[7] Cox, 66.

[8] Reiko Hillyer. Designing Dixie: Tourism, Memory, and Urban Space in the New South. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2014. 

[9] Sarah Shields Driggs, Richard Guy Wilson, and Robert P. Winthrop, Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, 15. 

[10] Hillyer, 105. 

[11] Blight, 2.