(August 26, 2017) Today’s post is provided by Dr. Michael Bradley who earned his PhD at Vanderbilt and taught history at Tennessee’s Motlow College for thirty-six years before retiring eleven years ago.
One point demonstrating Republican Party racism in the 19th and early 20th Centuries that Bradley fails to mention is the treatment of Asian-Americans. As explained in my earlier post, the Party had no interest in promoting racial equality for Asian-Americans because the minority could not be counted upon to be a reliable GOP voting block. That is one reason their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were ignored and they were not even permitted to become naturalized citizen until 1943.
In the ongoing debate over Confederate statues, memorials, and markers one of the charges advanced by those favoring their removal is that these objects are reminders of white supremacy and that the motive for erecting them was to reinforce Jim Crow laws. It is pointed out that many of them were erected in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when legal segregation being developed and enforced.
The academic research on which this conclusion rests is represented by the work of W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Where these Memories Grow, Jumpin’ Jim Crow edited by Dailey, Gilmore,and Smith, and a Karen Cox’s, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.
Each of these books argues that the groups who erected Confederate monuments believed in, and supported, white supremacy. The authors offer quotes from publications and speeches made by such groups to support their argument. They show, quite conclusively, that belief in white supremacy was widespread among the members of such groups.
From such evidence today’s anti-statue crowd concludes that the monuments themselves represent white supremacy. The statues, they argue, cannot be separated from the beliefs of their creators. Having introduced this idea into the debate, however, the anti-monument mob should face the one-ton gorilla standing just behind them. Specifically, the people who erected Union monuments believed the same thing.
For example, David Blight’s Race and Reunion admits that the Union veterans were not particularly interested in promoting the cause of racial equality. By the early 20th Century they agreed that the South fought for states rights and the North fought to preserve the Union. As Blight editorially condensed the interpretation at the time, “The cause of the Confederacy had been states’ rights without slavery, and the cause of the United States had been union without freedom.”
This is why one never sees a monument to Union troops which proclaims that the soldiers fought to end slavery. Instead, they all say that their struggle was to preserve the Union.
What did the North do to show they believed in white supremacy? When the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship regardless of race, was submitted to the states for ratification New Jersey, Oregon, Ohio, California, and Kentucky voted “no”, or voted “yes” only to rescind their affirmative vote. California did not ratify the 14th Amendment until 1959, Oregon in 1973, Kentucky in 1976, and New Jersey and Ohio in 2003.
Moreover, the area which formed the states from Iowa to the Rockies were settled only by white people because the 1863 Homestead Act did not allow people of color to receive free federal land.
Prominent leaders from northern states, such as U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from Massachusetts, endorsed white supremacy. Lodge described his concern for immigration by complaining that, “the immigration of people removed from us in race and blood is on the rise.” He also said “On the moral qualities of the English-speaking race, therefore, rest our history, our victories, and all our future. There is only one way in which you can lower those qualities or weaken those characteristics, and that is by breeding them out. If a lower race mixes with a higher in sufficient numbers, history teaches us that the lower will prevail.” Yet a statue of Senator Lodge stands unmolested on the grounds of the state capitol in Boston.
The notorious KuKluxKlan of the 1920’s echoed Lodge’s concerns. This movement was characterized by opposition to Jews, Catholics, and immigrants and it found a warm welcome in northern states. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas were Klan strongholds and the organization flourished in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Given contemporary claim is that monuments represent the ideology of those who erected them, then critics should admit that Union monuments are just as much dedicated to white supremacy as are Confederate ones. If Confederate monuments are seen as a way of telling African Americans “stay in your place” then Union monuments must be seen as a way of saying “we don’t care about you and never did.”
If being erected during the period of Jim Crow is evidence of racism what do we say to the fact that the Robert Gould Shaw monument, honoring both Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, was unveiled in 1896, the year the Supreme Court handed down the Plessy v Ferguson decision? (Editor Note: Only one Southern justice voted with the seven-to-one majority in this case.) The Union Soldiers and Sailors monument in New York City was erected in 1902 and the Union monument at St. Paul, Minnesota, went up in 1903, all of them dedicated during the period of Jim Crow.
Perhaps the scholars have got it wrong. Clearly, white people in the 19th and early 20th Centuries did believe themselves to be superior; Europeans felt the same way. But is it possible that the monuments were motivated by a desire to remember family and neighbors who had engaged in a fierce struggle which was divisive but which should now be put behind? Is it possible that these monuments were meant to say “we remember our own”? Is the history of Civil War memory is the late 19th and early 20th Century the “Age of Jim Crow” or is it the “Age of Memorialization”?
The Americans—North and South—who erected these monuments did not choose to remember everything but they did something positive in remembering family and friends. But if one chooses to condemn some of them, one must condemn all of them because the racial beliefs of those who erected them were identical.