The Marble Lady
There is a lot of discussion going on in the US and Canada right now about monuments and statues of folks from the past. What is being discussed is how to properly remember the history, but without glorifying the bad elements that may have had folks raising monuments to folks who in hindsight are best re-interpreted and placed in context.
I got thinking about this as I took some photos of grave markers here in Yarmouth County for an article I’m writing. The image this week is a monument, known as the Marble Lady – dedicated to Margaret Lindsay McNaught Webster. It is located at the Town Point Cemetery in Chebogue, along with many, many of my ancestors. At this location the first English-speaking setters in Yarmouth County arrived on June 9, 1761. Mrs. Webster died in the mid-1800s, and her husband commissioned the statue to honour her memory, the details shown to the artist in an image taken from a painting on a matchbox.
I am the descendant of both the Mayflower Pilgrims, some of whose descendants are buried here in Chebogue, but also a descendant of the founders of Virginia and other Southern States. I have relatives who were at the top of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and some who were at the bottom coming up. I can't change who I am descended from, and I love the stories from them all.
On one line, I am descended from Robert E Lee's best friend, and a cousin, a very famous Confederate General - one who has a military base named after him. I say all this to set the context.
The Southern folks who wanted to keep slavery, fought to leave the US to achieve the goal of keeping slavery. We can see today that that was not the right thing to do.
The Civil War ended on 9 April 1865. The South lost. The slaves gained their freedom. For the next 100 years, though, many in the South tried to relive the War and tried to renounce the outcome. Although the US Government tried to reconstruct the South, many people across the South simply refused to be open to the reality that now blacks were equal and were to be treated as such. The Camp that became the military base named after my relative - Camp Gordon - was so named in 1917. The base is in Georgia.
The naming of the base and statues to these Confederate Generals, then, are not put there from a past success or a past cause we want to remember. They are put there, very recently, to keep the hope of some alive that blacks be supplicants and subservient. They are, in a word, racist.
I fully agree we need to learn from the past - but we need to do so carefully and thoughtfully. If you've ever been to Gettysburg, that's how to do it. A wonderful slide show and narration by Morgan Freeman tells the story of the battle, and then you tour the grounds. There are monuments all over the place showing who was where and what events happened at what time. It is respectful of both sides, it shows the great loss of life over the issue. The same holds true at Robert E Lee's burial place - a large statue of him in repose and a museum in the basement of a chapel dedicated to Lee at the University he and my great, great grandfather taught at - Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. It's again a thoughtful and moving tribute. Those are wonderful places for statues and remembrances - at the battlefields and in museums. But, to have statues randomly scattered throughout the South to memorialize the losing cause is hurtful. There are 11 States that seceded, there are over 700 statues in those 11 States. Many, like of John C Calhoun, a man responsible for the importation of thousands of slaves and who owned dozens personally, sit in the middle of town or city squares in southern cities. That's what's different from ruins or other actual archaeological sites.
Yes, we need to leave these things in disgust in the past - but that's precisely the opposite of what many in the South were trying to do during the Jim Crow era.
It needs to stop.
I love history, and I love genealogy because of the stories we learn. But, we need to then look at those stories and learn. In an appropriate and sensitive way.
I hope that helps people understand how many folks feel about all this.