The thing about claiming territory and property is that it takes up space, and taking up space literally makes a huge statement; it becomes a platform for discussing who built something there, and why. So when black musician Daryl Davis shares his collection of former KKK members’ robes and his hopes of opening a “Museum of the Klan” in Matt Ornstein’s documentary Accidental Courtesy [premieres Monday, February 13 on PBS; check local listings], does this become a platform of hate or history? This has been an ongoing debate long before Davis’s proposed museum, as many memorials of Confederate and KKK leaders have been built since the Civil War. More than twenty of them still stand in fact. Here are some of the most talked about:
1. Battle of Liberty Place Memorial
1874. White League versus the New Orleans Metropolitan Police. The White League, an American white paramilitary organization formed to intimidate former slaves from voting, won, making segregation official in New Orleans. Another result of The White League’s 1874 victory was a monument honoring White League members who died in the Battle at Canal Street, a brief insurrection in New Orleans. Flash forward to 1932, an inscription was added to the monument stating that the Battle of Liberty Place was fought to “overthrow the carpetbag government” and that afterward the Yankees “recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”
Come 1989, the monument was removed due to construction on Canal Street, which made civic leaders and most civilians very happy, but modern-day supporters of the White League threatened to sue the city if the monument was not brought back after construction.
A compromise wasn’t made until 1993: the monument was brought back and moved to the actual site of the battle, which is now behind a parking lot. It’s so hidden that the only way you can find it is if you read this article and decide to go behind the parking lot yourself. But if you do find it, the inscription from 1932 is now covered with a slab that honors “those Americans on both sides of the conflict who died,” and defines the Battle as, “A conflict of the Past that should teach us lessons for the Future.”
2. Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument I
2.25. Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument II
2.5. and Park
Photo: Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia
There are two statues and a park in honor of the first official Grand Wizard of the KKK. After leading his troops to victory against the mostly black group of Union soldiers (who surrendered) at Fort Pillow, instead of taking them as prisoners of war, he directed his troops to slaughter all 300. The 1864 Fort Pillow Massacre site is now a Tennessee state park.
The statue has stayed put in Memphis since 1905 and in 1998, Jack Kershaw, the former attorney of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, decided to sculpt a rather interesting 25 foot revival of the statue depicting a wild-eyed Forrest crying, “Follow me!”
3-5. Statues of Alexander Hamilton Stephens of Georgia, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Charles Brantley Aycock of North Carolina at the National Statuary Hall
Alexander Hamilton Stephens of Georgia (1812-1883): When he was Confederate Vice President, one of the famous quotes in his Cornerstone Address that defended the enslavement of African Americans and sparked the Civil War was, “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” After the Civil War, Stephens became critical of the Confederacy and met with Abraham Lincoln to discuss peace terms.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (1782-1850): The seventh Vice President of the United States and notable political theorist/scholar from Yale University once said when asked about slavery, “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.” Yale University recently dropped his name from one of the residential buildings named after him because “he was a critic of the Declaration of Independence.” One of the stained glass windows in the building depicts a black man in shackles kneeling before Calhoun.
Charles Brantley Aycock of North Carolina (1859-1912): A strong asset to the history of the Democratic Party and the development of public school systems, dubbing him the nickname of, “The Education Governor,” is also known for coining the term “The negro problem,” where he said, “We have solved the negro problem…We have taken him out of politics and have thereby secured good government under any party and laid foundations for the future development of both races … Let the negro learn once for all that there is unending separation of the races, that the two peoples may develop side by side to the fullest but that they cannot intermingle; let the white man determine that no man shall by act or thought or speech cross this line, and the race problem will be at an end.”
6-35. There are 29 “centers,” seven roads (including interchanges), two libraries, two community centers, one telescope, and one bridge dedicated to Robert C. Byrd
The longest serving senator in American history who funded many projects and scholarships was also a former “Imperial Kleagle” of the KKK who filibustered the 1964 Civil Right Act. The conservative Democrat once wrote to Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo (in 1944): “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
36. Benjamin Tillman Statue
Tillman was a former Governor and Senator from South Carolina and the leader of the Red Shirts, a pro-segregationist group tied to the Democratic Party who executed black people and publicized it. Tillman’s statue can be found in front of the federal building in Columbia, South Carolina’s capital.
37. Stephen Foster Statue
Foster has been dubbed the “father of American music” for his parlor, minstrel and plantation music. At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh is a statue of what appears to be a slave named “Old Black Joe” playing the banjo at the feet of a content, well-dressed Foster.
38. Edmund Pettus Bridge
One of the most significant places during the Civil Rights Movement, the location of the Selma march that became “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965 when protesters marching to Montgomery were attacked by police, was named after a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
To date, there are at least 1,500 symbols across the country honoring the Confederacy in public spaces. Would keeping them around in prominent places like a state Capitol or in the heart of New Orleans be glorifying and legitimizing white supremacy or would they serve as reminders of how far America has come? Is it fair to suggest we should move all this stuff to an American history museum or change the rhetoric on monuments’ placards if this debate is about preserving history? What legacy is to be taught and shared with these monuments? You can give your thoughts in the comments below and watch Accidental Courtesy on Independent Lens to see how Daryl Davis answers these questions in defense of keeping and collecting Confederate and KKK relics.