When White Women Wanted a Monument to Black ‘Mammies’

tags: African American history, National Mall, monuments, womens history, black womens history

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In 1923, a group of white women wanted to build what they called a “monument to the faithful colored mammies” in Washington. These women, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, pressed lawmakers in Congress to introduce a bill. The Senate passed it, but the bill stalled in the House after fierce opposition from black women, including Mary Church Terrell and Hallie Quinn Brown, members of the National Association of Colored Women.

The fight over a proposed monument to black “mammies” exposes the lie of those who describe Confederate monuments as innocuous celebrations of Southern heritage. Lost Cause memorials are hurtful public symbols of white supremacy. Consider that most Confederate monuments were not erected by grieving widows or relatives immediately after the Civil War. A majority were put up in the 1890s and early 1900s by Southern whites hoping to justify the spread of Jim Crow while erasing the legacy of Reconstruction, a time when African-Americans had gained citizenship and voting rights.

There are now more than 1,740 Confederate monuments, statues, flags, place names and other symbols in public spaces across the country, not counting more than 2,600 markers, battlefields, museums and cemeteries that commemorate the Confederate dead or the many hundreds of statues of staunch segregationists. To date, only about 115 have been removed. In stark contrast, fewer than 100 monuments pay tribute to the civil rights movement.

Southern white women in organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894, raised funds to build many of the Confederate memorials and placed “loyal slave” plaques nearby. These celebrations of the “loyalty” of formerly enslaved people implied they had been happier in subordination, were still unequal and so should be segregated and treated as inferiors. In addition to the plaques, many formal monuments to “faithful slaves” were proposed; three were built, including the Faithful Slave Monument in Fort Mill, S.C., in 1895.

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