In such an atmosphere, one wonders, even if Trump is found to be guilty of collusion with Russia whether, ultimately, those facts will matter. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Americans have been engaged in dubious interpretation and disregard of facts for as long as schools have been teaching children that the pilgrims and the Indians were friendly co-collaborators and glossed over the raw horrors of the slave trade.
The long tradition of revisionism was at the center of Public Memory in the New South, a symposium hosted by the College of Charleston Jan. 11-13. The gathering, which was free and open to the public, was chiefly concerned with what, as individuals and as a society, we remember and forget and how we choose to frame those recollections, events, and historical narratives. Focused on the Southern experience and Southern history, the two-day event grappled with slavery, the Civil War, and the significance of Confederate monuments and symbols that have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, seen by some as tools of oppression and revered by others as proud emblems of Southern heritage.
- Sheila Pree Bright
- #ReclaimMLKDay, Black Lives Matter Disrupts M.L.K., Jr. Day Parades Across the Country, 2015 | From the series #1960Now | Atlanta, Georgia
Speakers included: Dr. Adam H. Domby, award-winning historian and College of Charleston professor; photographer Anderson Scott, perhaps most famous for his book of Civil War reenactment photographs called Singing Dixie; and 9/11 memorial designer Michael Arad, who is also the designer of the planned Emanuel Nine Memorial.
"I don’t understand how a group or a race of people can’t understand that type of trauma. I think memory is ingrained in the DNA, generation after generation," she said. "When we are born, black bodies, we are born into a struggle for liberation. How can you forget?"
That question cannot be addressed without considering that for some Southerners, the Confederate flag and other emblems of the "lost cause" are tied, at least narratively, to a proud heritage of people fighting for autonomy, states' rights, and the honorable dead.
- Kevin Kline
- Woman on Martin Luther King Day, Saint Claude Avenue, 2008 | From the Someday You Will Be a Memory seriesNew Orleans, Louisiana
Highlighting a series of primary documents from the Civil War and the period after Reconstruction, during which the highest number of Confederate monuments were erected (Jim Crow), Domby unceremoniously deconstructed myths about the war’s cause and the original purpose of Confederate monuments by simply pointing to the original statements made by their architects.
Related Q&A with Conway-based Southbound photographer, Jeff Rich: "You can't throw a rock and not hit a body of water"
In another document, North Carolina industrialist Julian Carr in 1913 states in his dedication to the monument of “Silent Sam,” a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier, (which until recently stood prominently on the University of North Carolina campus), the central purpose of the statue’s erection: “The present generation ... scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race ... when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race.” The declaration goes on to proudly explain that that is why the purest Anglo Saxon strain can be found in the 13 Southern states, rendering the statue itself an unveiled homage to white supremacy.
[Ed. note: Carol Folt, the UNC chancellor who ordered Silent Sam's remaining pedestal removed on Monday while also tendering her resignation effective in May, was asked to step down on Jan. 31 by the school's board on Tuesday.]
- Gillian Laub
- Julie and Bubba, Mount Vernon, 2002 | From the Southern Rites series | Mount Vernon, Georgia
In an interview with Bright before her talk, the photographer poignantly noted that she believes that what contributed to the tension over Confederate monuments and related symbols of the South is that for centuries the story of America and the American people has been written by white men — that they have been the sole architects of our public memory.
She expressed hope that the Smithsonian African American History Museum and the lynching memorial at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama might help turn the tide, and recall a more complete vision of the South. Her remarks recall a memorable proverb: until the lion tells the story the hunter will always be the hero.