Sunday, August 27, 2017

Them Monuments!

A friend (DS) sent me the speech made by Julian Carr at the dedication of Silent Sam, the Civil War monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, on June 2, 1913. The speech is preserved in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC as part of the Julian Carr Papers. He was a well educated graduate of the university, a Civil War veteran, an important post-war tobacco businessman, and a fluid, florid writer.

I just read that speech straight through with keen interest, thinking of the current controversy down there in Chapel Hill between the citizens who want that statue of Silent Sam removed, and the citizens who don't. Carr's speech illuminates the context for Silent Sam's placement on campus, at least insofar as Mr. Carr saw it. His speech was epic, flowery, decorated with high-flown allusions to mythology and ancient history, with frequent slabs of quoted poetry, and plenty of flattery for the Daughters of the Confederacy who had raised the money for the statue. The Daughters of the Confederacy were direct descendants of the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome, said Carr, and added (I'm not making this up!), "God's name be praised!"

All those war dead, which the statue represented, got transported in Carr's speech from the actual slaughter on actual bloody battlegrounds, to this: "I know where they [the war dead] are, -- just over the narrow-river, camped in silken tents, on the green sward, under the shade of the trees, on the banks of the crystal stream of life" ... meaning, O my brethren, that even though those dead boys are all living it up in heaven, they're also still very much present for us and our Sacred Cause. (Boy! Would I like this guy to preach my funeral, and all funerals!)

The statue thus dedicated depicted a very much alive common Confederate foot soldier, clutching his rifle to his chest, and facing north, obviously, because the Union was the North, but also for another reason -- as a demonstration of that 1913 crowd's resistance to northern economic and political power. (The Union's military occupation of the South following the war was called "reconstruction" by Yankees, but among Southern white elites it was known as tribulation of the righteous.)

Facing north, also, as a symbol of resistance to what had happened in North Carolina very recently, and could happen again! Just 20 years before the arrival of Silent Sam, the Fusion Party -- made up of a coalition of Republicans and Negroes -- had swept the North Carolina elections of 1894 and 1896. Newly elected Fusion Party officials, some white and some black, immediately installed literally thousands of Negroes in low-level political and patronage jobs, further inflaming the hatred of white Democrats.

You know what happened. White Democrats fought back in the elections of 1898 with pure race war language and tactics and took back the government. Not incidentally, a cabal of Democrats in Wilmington, NC, in that same year staged an armed insurrection against their Negro city government, executing at least 20 Negroes (and possibly as many as 60), and torching Negro properties -- all for the race crime of being duly elected to office.

Julian Carr, 1905
Near the end of his speech, Carr got around to gingerly mentioning the race war context. He started off by wringing his hands rhetorically that current college students in 1913 didn't take seriously the Negro threat:
The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South. When "the bottom rail was on top" all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence, the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States -- Praise God.
When "the bottom rail was on top." There it is, his gingerly way of mentioning Reconstruction, when bottom blacks got on top. Carr continued with the most startling thing he said that day -- because it's personal and apparently true:
I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomatox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.
Don't you wonder about his telling that story of beating a "negro wench" on that occasion, in front of that elite and pious crowd, and without apparent embarrassment? After all, he was bragging about beating that woman, to an audience he must have assumed would smile rather than wince.

With that crowd and at that time, it was perfectly okay, and perhaps even expected from an old soldier, to demonstrate that you'd never give an inch on race.

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