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Class Year

2020

Abstract

This paper addresses the disparate commemorative modes and purposes employed by black and white Southerners following the Civil War, in their competing efforts to control the cultural narrative of the war’s legacy. I attempt to explain commemorative difference in the post-war era by evaluating the historical and rhetorical implications of the white Confederate monument, in contrast with the black freedom celebration. The goal of this research is to understand why monuments to the Confederacy proliferate in the South, while similar commemorative markers of the prominent role of slavery in the Civil War are all but nonexistent. I conclude that, while a white supremacist system denied black Southerners the economic and political capital to commission monuments, black Southerners organized public commemorative celebrations not only because they were denied monuments but because celebration and oration presented themselves as powerful strategies to advance black interests. White Southerners favored monuments as a commemorative form because, in the face of a culturally devastating loss, they sought to establish permanent testaments to a pre-war cultural landscape; however, the initial victory of emancipation, with its promise of not only freedom but equality, led black Southerners to seek communion about the past as a tool for understanding and shaping their future, and so celebration and oration became important strategies for consolidating historical narratives and collective imaginations about the place of blacks in a new America.

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