The Southern Poverty Law Center has released Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy that “catalogs 1,503 examples of monuments and statues; flags; city, county and school names; lakes, dams and other public works; state holidays; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.” Here is their press release.
Amazingly, one is in Boston. The Center’s report links to this 2013 photograph and accompanying article on Civil War Memory, a website by local historian Kevin M. Levin:
Today my wife and I spent the day on Georges Island in Boston harbor. I gave a brief presentation for the National Park Service on Boston’s Civil War memory, which went really well. Afterwards, we spent some time walking through Fort Warren.
A number of prominent Confederate officials, including James Mason, John Slidell and Alexander Stephens were held as prisoners for various periods of time. In addition, Richard Ewell, Isaac Trimble, Simon Bolivar Buckner and a small number of Confederate soldiers were also held as prisoners during the war.
I knew all of this, but what truly surprised was this monument to those Confederates who died as prisoners, which was dedicated by the Boston chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1963. Yeah, that’s right, there was a UDC chapter in Boston.
Kudos to Levin for breaking the story, in a sense.
The Law Center urges community members to “organize campaigns to remove these symbols from public spaces and place them in museums or similar venues where a full account of the history can be provided.” Noted Civil War historian Eric Foner has argued it is more effective to leave such memorials in place, but add additional material that puts them in historical context. WaPo:
“In the south, I don’t think they should take down statues of Confederate leaders,” Foner continued. “They should put up statues of black congressmen and senators. It makes the public history more accurately reflect our entire history.”
At a minimum, such additional material should be added to this memorial. For a start, it might mention the 13,942 Massachusetts residents who died in that awful conflict, and the millions of people enslaved by the brutal government whose seal is featured on the memorial.
Then again, Foner did preface that comment with “In the south.” Maybe here in the North, we don’t need a relatively recent confederate memorial complete with the seal of the CSA and its motto “Under God, Our Vindicator” on George’s Island, and it would be better off in a museum as the Center recommends — complete with additional contextualizing material. The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common says more, better.