To Disparage John Brown and Quash the New Negro: Troubled Confederate Commemoration 1920

For Confederate Memorial Associations maintaining the distinctive social arrangements based on race was central to their survival. These values and beliefs protected the power of the dominant class (patrician southern whites) by infusing the Lost Cause into the minds of the public. In periods of social change their presence would amplify with commemoration activities. Amidst the arrival of the New Negro, “a class of colored people,.. who have arisen since the war, with education, refinement, and money”, the United Daugters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans would collaborate to prepare themselves to devote their first memorial to a “faithful slave.”

In November 1920, President-General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy May McKinney admonished her fellow UDC sisters to see that “future generations may be impressed with the real truth” about John Brown and how he killed “a faithful slave” who “held too dear the lives of ‘Ole Massa’ and ‘Ole Miss’us’, to fulfill Brown’s orders of rapine and murder.” She also concluded of Mr. Shepherd that he would never have been one of those negroes that tried to sit at the front of a railcar.

It was of no consequence to Mrs. McKinney that Shepherd had actually been a free black. Here we find the selection of the purported “type” of blacks selected as worthy of memorials, parades, statues, gravestones, and commemorative days. They needed to fit the faithful slave mold. As David Blight pointed out “the Lost Cause changed with succeeding generations and shifting political circumstances”16 For the general public, including African Americans in their organizations and proclaiming that African Americans participated fully in the Confederacy gives the pretense of racial inclusion, whereas their symbolism of Stars and Bars as well as the historic record convey the old southern view that is tinged with elements of white supremacy.”1

During the ceremony for the Heyward Shepherd memorial, Pearl Tatten, an African American music teacher at the historically black Storer College, bristled at the paternalistic tone of the event where the virtues of black mammies were being extolled to resounding applause. Ms. Tatten later indicated that her father had served in the Civil War as a Union soldier who had fought for liberty and that African Americans were “pushing forward to a larger freedom, not in the spirit of the black mammy but in the spirit of new freedom and rising youth.”2

From the point of view of the Confederate Memorial Associations an African American was a villain or saint depending on whether or not (s)he actively asserted his freedom; on the other hand if (s)he desired to perpetuate his or her role as a servant (s)he was drawn as a contented negro who enjoyed status in southern society, gained the admiration of masters and in turn recognized the natural and proper supremacy of the white man.3

1.David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2001), 258.
2 Mary Johnson An “Ever Present Bone of Contention”:The Heyward Shepherd Memorial,” West Virginia History Journal
Volume 56 (1997), pp. 1-26
3. Theodore L. Gross, “The Negro in the Literature of Reconstruction,” Phylon (1960-2002), Vol. 22, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1961), page
6 (accessed 10/03/14)

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