On June 4, 1907, a new attraction was unveiled in Richmond: a monument to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during its brief existence before being snuffed out by Union forces in 1865.
A dispatch in the Bottineau Courant, a North Dakota newspaper, (and picked up in other publications) described the scene. “The unveiling,” the story read, “was the fruition of 18 years of patient and loving effort, and every man who wore the Southern uniform had in his heart a desire to be present. The thanks of the entire south were offered by the orators of the occasion to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose work it was that made the monument association a success.” The monument was unveiled by Davis’s daughter Margaret. Texas observed “Davis Day”; Alabama closed all stores for five minutes.
Four years later, a tribute at the Bull Run battlefield in Manassas, attended by “thousands of patriots of the North and South,” according to a report in the Washington Herald. The event included the dedication of a memorial pavilion organized by the Daughters of the Confederacy, and the event itself was described as a “peace jubilee” on the 50th anniversary of the battle.
This was an era in which any number of still-existing tributes to the Confederacy were dedicated. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center catalogued the existing tributes to the losers of the Civil War, indexing, as much as possible, the year in which the monuments (or other tributes, including the naming of roads or schools) originated. (You can click on this image to zoom in.)
The early 1900s were a period in which Confederate soldiers were growing old; the Daughters of the Confederacy were often literally that.
But there’s another burst of new memorials indicated in the SPLC’s data: during the civil rights struggle in the early 1960s.
In Falls Church, Va., there’s a school called J.E.B. Stuart High School, named in 1958 for a Confederate general. The school board in Fairfax County is considering renaming the school to avoid the direct association with Stuart, having determined that the name stemmed from the “massive resistance” shown in Virginia state politics in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that outlawed segregation.
What did that resistance look like? Parents in Norfolk were forced to sue the state after a number of schools were closed solely to prevent black students from attending. That was also in 1958, the same year as the designation of J.E.B. Stuart High School.
There’s clearly a correlation between the civil rights push in education and the decision to name schools after Confederate leaders, as is shown clearly in the SPLC data.
What’s particularly interesting about that SPLC data is that, although Confederate memorials are predictably located in Southern states, they aren’t exclusively located there.
We can break down the type of memorial indexed by the SPLC and overlay it with the role the state played in the Civil War — or didn’t, having not existed in 1865.
About 8 percent of the memorials to the Confederacy that were indexed by the SPLC are in states that fought for the Union in the Civil War (though most of those memorials are in states that were on the border with the Confederacy — and that allowed slave ownership.)
Some of the memorials to the soldiers and leaders of the Confederacy emerged in the still-segregated South well before the civil rights movement, paying tribute to those who fought for those states during the war. Many emerged a century later, clearly at least in part in response to the effort to eradicate institutional racism in the United States.
No state has more memorials to the Confederacy than the state that was home to its capital, Virginia. But more than half the states in the country have at least one, including New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania which, combined, gave 126,000 lives to the Union effort — more than a third of all the Northern deaths in the Civil War.