Women’s group be­hind Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als bat­tles to keep mon­u­ments

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY ALLEN G. BREED As­so­ci­ated Press

On a glo­ri­ous, late­spring day, Maya Lit­tle strode across the poplar­lined Univer­sity of North Carolina quad­ran­gle, past protesters and a uni­formed of­fi­cer. She stepped onto the base of the Con­fed­er­ate sol­dier statue that has stood there since 1913 and splashed it with a mix­ture of red ink and her own blood.

The 25-year-old doc­toral can­di­date was send­ing a mes­sage to Chan­cel­lor Carol Folt that the mon­u­ment – nick­named “Silent Sam” – was an af­front to black stu­dents like her, “the cel­e­bra­tion of an army that fought for our an­ces­tors’ en­slave­ment.”

But Lit­tle was also speak­ing to the group re­spon­si­ble for erect­ing this me­mo­rial to “the Lost Cause” – the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy.

“There is no Silent Sam with­out black blood, with­out vi­o­lence to­wards black peo­ple,” Lit­tle said re­cently as she sat in the statue’s shadow, cam­pus se­cu­rity guards hov­er­ing be­hind nearby trees and col­umns. “I would say all that blood is on their hands. And it will con­tinue to be un­til they take a stand – un­til they ... make an ef­fort to take these mon­u­ments down and to be a part of ac­tual racial equal­ity, racial jus­tice.”

But the Daugh­ters had al­ready made their po­si­tion clear months be­fore Lit­tle’s protest and ar­rest. Last sum­mer, in the wake of ri­ots over the pro­posed re­moval of a mon­u­ment to Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Char­lottesville, Va., the group is­sued a rare pub­lic state­ment.

“We are grieved that cer­tain hate groups have taken the Con­fed­er­ate flag and other sym­bols as their own,” Pres­i­dent Gen­eral Pa­tri­cia Bryson wrote fol­low­ing the Aug. 12 clashes last year that left one woman dead. But while Bryson in­sisted that the UDC con­demns any­one who “pro­motes racial di­vi­sive­ness or white supremacy,” she ar­gued that the Con­fed­er­ate an­ces­tors hon­ored by these memo­ri­als “were and are Amer­i­cans.”

She is­sued a call of her own: “Join us in de­nounc­ing hate groups and af­firm­ing that Con­fed­er­ate me­mo­rial stat­ues and mon­u­ments are part of our shared Amer­i­can his­tory and should re­main in place.”

Most peo­ple might know the UDC as that group of mainly older women who dress in widow’s weeds and gather on Con­fed­er­ate Me­mo­rial Day to lay wreaths of box­wood and holly and sing mourn­ful ren­di­tions of “Dixie” in honor of the es­ti­mated 260,000 Con­fed­er­ate ser­vice mem­bers who died in the Civil War. See­ing them ar­rayed in their broad-brimmed hats and red-and-white sashes, it would be easy to dis­miss the Daugh­ters as a quaint anachro­nism.

That would be a mis­take.

As memo­ri­als have top­pled and Con­fed­er­ate place names have van­ished in the year since the Char­lottesville ri­ots, the Daugh­ters have fought back with law­suits aimed at stop­ping the re­moval of rebel mon­u­ments from pub­lic spa­ces.

Heidi Beirich of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter counts the group among the lead­ing pro­po­nents of the “cult of the Lost Cause” – not­ing it has dis­trib­uted lit­er­a­ture that claims most African-Amer­i­cans were “ready and will­ing” to serve slave own­ers and that north­ern nul­li­fi­ca­tion of South­ern­ers’ rights forced the War Be­tween the States.

“I wouldn’t put them on ... our hate group list,” says Beirich. “But they are still per­pet­u­at­ing some of the vilest ideas in Amer­i­can his­tory, and the ones that we’ve worked so hard to get rid of.”

The na­tional UDC – head­quar­tered in Rich­mond, Va., cap­i­tal of the for­mer Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica – did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Founded on Sept. 10, 1894, the UDC sprang from women’s “hos­pi­tal as­so­ci­a­tions, sewing so­ci­eties and knit­ting cir­cles” across the South that worked to aid Con­fed­er­ate soldiers, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

Mem­ber­ship is open to de­scen­dants of those who served hon­or­ably in the Con­fed­er­ate mil­i­tary or “who gave ma­te­rial aid to the cause.”

Af­ter the war, the group of­fered as­sis­tance to Con­fed­er­ate wid­ows and or­phans. But its most vis­i­ble legacy is one of metal and stone.

Mem­bers of the South’s most prom­i­nent fam­i­lies, the Daugh­ters ded­i­cated them­selves to telling what they con­sid­ered “a truth­ful his­tory” of the war. So adept were they at rais­ing funds that when the United Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans had trou­ble fund­ing a me­mo­rial to Jef­fer­son Davis in Rich­mond, the Daugh­ters took over the project. The me­mo­rial, with its semi­cir­cu­lar colon­nade and 67-foot-high col­umn, was ded­i­cated on June 3, 1907 – the 99th an­niver­sary of Davis’ birth.

The SPLC at­tributes some 450 mon­u­ments, mark­ers, build­ings and other com­mem­o­ra­tives to UDC ef­forts. The memo­ri­als range from mod­est stat­ues like Silent Sam to the soar­ing 351-foot con­crete obelisk mark­ing the Ken­tucky birth­place of Davis, the Con­fed­er­acy’s only pres­i­dent. The vast ma­jor­ity were erected dur­ing the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies – when states were en­act­ing Jim Crow laws meant to dis­en­fran­chise blacks – and amid the civil rights move­ment of the 1950s and 60s.

But the Daugh­ters are no longer as united as they once were. Amid calls to re­move a Con­fed­er­ate statue from the old court­house in Tampa, Fla., the pres­i­dent of the UDC’s


state di­vi­sion came out in sup­port of mov­ing such mon­u­ments from pub­lic prop­erty.

In North Carolina, of­fi­cials are try­ing to de­ter­mine whether Silent Sam and other Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als have be­come pub­lic safety haz­ards – a de­ter­mi­na­tion that op­po­nents be­lieve could ful­fill an ex­cep­tion to a 2015 law pre­vent­ing their per­ma­nent re­moval.

Lit­tle, who stud­ies his­tory at UNC, went to the North Carolina UDC’s con­ven­tion last year to ask for the group’s sup­port to move Silent Sam. She was asked to leave.

Di­vi­sion of­fi­cials did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. But at a March hear­ing be­fore the North Carolina His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion, state UDC mem­ber Teresa Langley said the group was “to­tally against any ac­tion” to re­move or re­lo­cate the memo­ri­als. “Our or­ga­ni­za­tion and legacy or­ga­ni­za­tions like it are the pri­mary stake­hold­ers in this con­tro­versy,” Langley said.

On April 30, as Lit­tle turned Silent Sam’s pedestal red, a fel­low pro­tester read aloud the 1913 ded­i­ca­tion speech of Ju­lian Carr – a Con­fed­er­ate vet­eran, in­dus­tri­al­ist and UNC grad­u­ate whose name adorns a nearby city and a build­ing at Duke Univer­sity.

“One hun­dred yards from where we stand ... 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. ...” he told the ap­prov­ing crowd.

Lit­tle, who says she’s faced threats of vi­o­lence and lynch­ing, thinks that anec­dote re­veals the true pur­pose be­hind what Carr called “this noble gift of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy.”

Lit­tle says the Daugh­ters need to stop act­ing as if they’re the vic­tims: “Be­ing silent in the face of racism or vi­o­lence is com­plic­ity in those acts.”

Lit­tle’s crim­i­nal van­dal­ism trial is sched­uled for Oc­to­ber. In June, the UNC Of­fice of Stu­dent Con­duct charged her with vi­o­lat­ing the honor code by “steal­ing, de­stroy­ing, or mis­us­ing prop­erty.”

Mean­ing Lit­tle could be ex­pelled, while Silent Sam re­mains.


Ac­tivist Maya Lit­tle stands in May near the “Silent Sam” Con­fed­er­ate statue on cam­pus at the Univer­sity of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Lit­tle splashed the statue with a mix­ture of red ink and her own blood this past spring. “There is no Silent Sam with­out black blood, with­out vi­o­lence to­wards black peo­ple,” she said re­cently.

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