Thursday, June 29, 2006

Arrival in Atlanta

Touchingly, a few of you have seemed disappointed that I haven't updated in a few days. I'll give you a summary. A couple days ago I interviewed the SCV spokesman. I decided not to update my blog that day because I'm going to keep the content of the interviews private, that way I won't offend anyone.
I left Richmond yesterday. Now I'm in Atlanta, and my experience here has already been much more lively than my time in Virginia. I'm still getting oriented to the city, but there is a bus line that runs a block from where I live to fairly close to the Atlanta History Center (AHC). I'll be doing much of my research here at the AHC. Today I went just to check out the resources there. I asked for some vertical files on Stone Mountain and I was surprised (pleasantly...probably) when the archivist brought out 8 full files of primary source documents on the mountain. I didn't even make it through one file today. Also, there is a chick-fil-a in the museum. But probably the best thing about the AHC is that admission to the archives are free --a welcome change for this poor student (so far, the most expensive archives I've accessed were $10 dollars per visit --not including copies made there.)
The only thing about my time in Atlanta that makes me nervous is that since I do not have a car, getting to Stone Mountain will be difficult. My mother is coming with a car in a week, but I am afraid that I will not be able to get in all my research at the mountain during the brief period she is in town.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hollywood Cemetary

Today I was given a personal driving tour of some highlights in Richmond that I may have missed otherwise because they're not easily accessible on foot. One of these sites was Hollywood Cemetary. Hollywood Cemetary has nothing to do with the neighborhood in LA. Rather, its one of those rare graveyards that is also a tourist destination. Many famous Southerners are interred there, including Jefferson Davis, Fitzhugh Lee, JEB Stuart, John Tyler, and James Monroe. Many of the Confederate gravesites are maintained by the Daughters of the Confederacy, and on the birthdays of generals like Davis and Stuart, flowers are placed on the sites. Davis' site is maintained year-round.

The strangest thing at Hollywood, though, was the ninety-foot pyramid. Built in 1869, the granite pyramid is a memorial to 18,000 enlisted men that are buried nearby. I will say one thing about the Confederates: they specialized in maudlin and mourning. I bet they would have thrown some great funerals with eulogies full of flowery rhetoric. I believe that plots are still available, if anyone is interested.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lincoln and Lee

Today I went to the Tredegar Iron Works and the Canal Walk --two sites of controversy in Richmond over the two most iconic figures of the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. A black City Councilman said he was offended at the mural of Lee that was painted on the floodwall. A few weeks after the mural went up, an arsonist burned the General's visage (and took down some other lumanaries that were on the wall as well.) So I expected to find a huge mural the size of a multi-story building. Reality was an anti-climax. The floodwall was hidden behind a parking lot, buried in a rusty construction zone. The murals themselves were wimpy and faded.

Originally mural of Lee was supposed to have been the general in full military garb. The picture you see here, Lee looking dejected in front of his home in Richmond after the war's end, was a compromise arrived upon to assuage fears that the militaristic image of the General was just another form of Southern glorification. Anyway, after seeing the thing, I could not believe that had caused such a furor.

I also visited the Tredegar Iron Works and had an interview with a park service ranger who had been around for all the flap over the Lincoln statue. I liked the Lincoln statue. With Abe sitting with his son, giving his trademark forelorn look, the statue was a hardly a gloating embodiment of Northern victory. Nevertheless, the statue enraged a lot of Southerners. And I will have the unmitigated pleasure of interviewing one tomorrow.

To check out more pictures from Tredegar and the Canal Walk, visit my snapfish site.
Password: confed

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Sleepy Saturday

After a hot run, I decided to try and go to an area museum for a non-research purpose. I figured out the bus route to the Valentine-Richmond History Center, and set out to wait for the bus.
The VRHC was a disappointment. Although the museum has tons of stuff, I was a little disappointed with the place. The placards with explanatory text didn't match up to the items on exhibit. So for $7 (the student rate), I found this to be a bit of a ripoff.
There are photo archival collections at the VRHC that I'd like to get in to see. Unfortunately, the archive staff doesn't get back to requests for appointments very quickly and I'm leaving on Wednesday. I hope that on Tuesday I'll be able to get in.
On another note, I'm beginning to worry that now that my time here has come to a close, that I have not done enough. I feel pretty good on the archive material stuff. I'm just not sure that I've interviewed enough people. I've done six interviews so far. I have another on Monday, and I'm trying to get through to more people. In addition to not talking to tons of folks, I'm worried that the people I've talked to have been from a skewed sample. Most everyone I've talked to has been involved in "preservation" community (ie,people who have done some thinking about the public art in Richmond). Actually, I'm not even worried about that. It's just a fact. This project is not one of scientific precision. But it seems to me that most interviewing that occurs in the humanities and history is hardly from a broad cross-section of humanity.

Friday, June 23, 2006

For Every Action, There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction...

The mysterious cosmic laws must have dicated that today must be equally awful as last night was wonderful. Last night I was shown Southern hospitality at its finest (though I think that the graciousness of my hosts had less to do with their region of origin than their goodness as people). Needless to say, the property itself was just amazing. The place is in virtually the same condition as it was in the 18th century. When you are roaming the hundreds of acres of the property, you really feel transported.

Today I met someone for an interview. I expected him to a stately, patrician old man. Instead, I ended up spending several hours with the living embodiment of all the terrible stereotypes of Southern white men. I carefully extricated myself from the situation (with some help) and hightailed it for the bus.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tuckahoe, Thomas Jefferson's boyhood home...

I have been graciously invited to a BBQ at Tuckahoe Plantation, which was Thomas Jefferson's boyhood home. I'm a little nervous because I don't really know the family that lives there. I wonder if it would be considered inappropriate to take pictures there. It is a family's house, but then again, they do rent out the house for special events. Also, it's a national historic landmark.

Today I mostly spent my time at the Museum of the Confederacy. I read through a few of the latest issues of Confederate Veteran, which is the official magazine of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I must say, the SCV is a significantly more political organization than the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I'm supposed to have an interview with the fiery spokesman for the organization on Monday. I'm a little bit nervous already. Just in our brief phone conversation I could tell that he's certainly not a courtly, genteel type.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Another Tuesday in Richmond...

Today I got off to a late start, unfortunately not because I slept in. After a phone interview (less helpful for the substance of it than the tips she gave me for contacting people), I went to catch the bus. But, of course, the bus was late. So I waited and waited and continued to get sunburnt. Finally, the bus came and I headed off to the Museum of the Confederacy.

At the MoC, I primarily looked at clippings from 2003 when a controversy europted over the a decision to place a statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Tredegar Iron Works. The statue of Lincoln seated with his son, Tad, commemorates the trip the president made to Richmond in April 1965, after the city's fall. There is a granite wall behind the statue that reads, "To bind up the nation's room" --a quote from Lincoln's second inaugural address. As the quote suggests, Lincoln's trip was undertaken to begin the process of national reconcilation, as the war's end was close at hand.

Now, Abraham Lincoln is near-universally recognized as a national hero. Not all citizens in Richmond welcomed Lincoln's bronzed presence, though. Members of Southern heritage groups vehemently opposed Lincoln in Richmond.

Here's a fiery quote Sons of Cofederate Veterans spokesman, Bragg Bowling:
"They have no concept of history and how it might be the wrong place to put the statue," said Mr. Bowling, whose great-grandfather John Stephen Cannon fought for the Confederacy. "As a Southerner, I'm offended. You wouldn't put a statue of Winston Churchill in downtown Berlin, would you? What's next, a statue of Sherman in Atlanta?"

Anyway, the statue eventually went up. And at the monument's unveiling, the SCV and other heritage groups staged a protest vigil at Jefferson Davis' grave.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Richmond, Week 2

Today was a very productive and enjoyable day. I learned two important facts about Richmond that I'm embarassed to say I hadn't known before. In the past ten years, Richmond has not had one, but THREE controversies over monuments. All three have divided the city down racial lines.

Of couse, there was the Ashe monument.

But then in 1999 another controversy erupted. City decided to build a floodwall (that doubled as a mural on it to famous Virginians) along the James river. The day before the mural was set to be completed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed a picture of Robert E Lee being put up on the mural. Of course, Lee wasn't the only Virginian to be part of the art-wall. Lee was to share a panel of the floodwall with Powhatan, and Gabriel Prosser, the leader of an antebellum slave revolt.

But black City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin said he was offended by the visage of the Confederate general.

The Times-Dispatch reports:
"The portrait angered City Councilman Sa'ad El-Amin, who led a protest yesterday and was ready to propose a boycott of tomorrow's Canal Walk opening. At midday, the 6th District councilman met with the men in charge of the Canal Walk development. The district includes the floodwall.

By the end of the day, El-Amin claimed victory. "We got what we wanted. The mural's coming down," said El-Amin, congratulating those who decided to take Lee's portrait down."

Five months later, after countless protests and counter-protests, Lee's face was finally returned to the mural.

But that wasn't the end of the story on Canal Walk.

Less than two months after the mural went up, an arsonist threw a molotov cocktail at Lee's image.

In an ironic use of the law, the SCV and other heritage organizations insisted that the desecration be investigated as a hate crime.

Over El-Amin's protests, the image of Lee was eventually restored.

Ok, tomorrow I'll tell you about the other, even more ridiculous bruhaha over another monument. But first, I'm going to bed.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Richmond, Saturday Edition:

This morning I got up and treated myself to breakfast at a local diner. Of course, I could not resist ordering eggs, grits and a buscuit. I also could not resist taking the extra buscuit they gave me to eat later for lunch. As I was reading the morning paper I noticed a letter to the editor about the Confederate flag issue. The letter was actually a response to an earlier letter to the editor. So I did a wee bit of digging on the Times-Dispatch website and literally not 2 days goes by without a letter to the editor written about the Confederate flag issue. Just for the past two weeks, letters to the editor on the flag have appeared on 5/26, 5/28, 6/1, 6/6, 6/7, 6/13, 6/15, and 6/16. Titles of letters range from, "Rebel Sympathizers Are Delusional" to "Confederate Flag Represents Pride." The letters are cut 50/50 on the flag issue. While my research doesn't focus on the flag, it's basically the same issue. Both flags and monuments are symbols that mean different things to different people, as these polarized letters demonstrate.

Anyway, I got my first glimpse of the monuments up close today. After breakfast, I walked along Monument Avenue. While I was there I was struck by several things. First, the monuments are huge, and mostly out of proportion. Lee's bronzed horse, Traveller, seems to be a huge equine beast. In reality, I've heard the horse was rather puny. To heighten the larger-than-life effect of the Lee monument, there are spotlights pointed at the monument.

I was also struck by how empty the avenue was. The only other cluster of monuments that I've seen was in Washington DC and there were certainly a lot people aroudn the space. But Monument Ave seems to be a dead civic space. On the one hand, this could be interpreted to mean that residents don't really care about the Confeds. on the street. But when the Ashe monument went up in 1996, that hypothesis was emphatically proven false. The other hypothesis is that people don't see a need to engage with these powerful symbols; that Richmonders (at leat the ones in the neighborhood) basically accept the didactic message of the avenue.

I flagged down a man walking his dog. Both the man (and his dog) seemed friendly. And most importantly, for my purposes, the man seemed local. In a Mercedes-Benz hat and boat shoes, he seemed like he probably lived in the high-end neighborhood. Plus, he was walking his dog on the street. I asked if he'd be willing to talk to me for a few minutes about the monuments on the street.
"I'll pass," he said. I told him I'd been having a hard time getting people to talk to me. "I'll bet," he said. "All this racism stuff. It's in the past. People need to get over it." "We have this guy at the paper, Wilson, he's just there to point out examples of racism all over the place. Get over it." This exchange seems to confirm my fear that people were going to be very resistent to talking to me. It also taught me that the man-on-the-street interviewing is actually not that effective. No one really wants to talk to you on the street. They're usually going somehwere, and it was particularly hot today. I decided to adopt a woman-in-a-cafe approach instead. That was more successful and I eventually talked to a lifelong Richmonder who lived across from the Ashe monument. Though I'm positive I would not talk to him under any other cirucmstances, he gave a great interview and made some very interesting points.

You can check out more pictures from Monument Avenue at my snapfish site.
Password: confed

Friday, June 16, 2006

Richmond, Day 3

Yesterday was a productive day (I think --its hard to know what will be useful later on and what won't), and today has the makings of another good one. This morning I talked to a woman who was head of the GOP in her county in Georgia for a few years and is a member of various heritage groups. In addition to providing a lot of interesting information, she said she would help set up meetings for me once I'm in Atlanta. She's very well connected politically, so I hope she'll be a valuable resource.

Also, I think she's more sympathetic to the plight of a thesis writer because her daughter is a 2000 Harvard grad. She also cautioned me that many heritage groups such as the Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV) would be wary of talking to me because they feel that they've been unfairly portrayed by the media. She specifically singled out Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic as a smear against such groups, even after group members had been very hospitable to Horwitz. She also cautioned that my Harvard affiliation might hurt me in this pursuit. Uh-oh.

Anyway, right now I'm at the VHS again and am looking at their photographic collections. They're a little skimpy on anything that isn't Robert E. Lee, so I'll have to find photos at some of the other museums about town.
I'm not exactly sure what I'll do after I leave the library today. Since I have no car, my options for getting around are very limited. And since I don't know the city that well, I'm not exactly sure where to go even if I had transportation to get there.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Richmond: Day 1

I arrived here last night and was fortunately picked up at the airport by a friend of my landlady. We took the senic route through the town to sort of get me acclimated to the geography of the city. During our ride I became firmly convinced that it was basically vital to have a car. That conclusion was further confirmed today as I tried to figure out how long it might take to walk to the museums I need to visit. So I caught a ride this morning with a roommate who graciously offered to drop me off at the Virginia Historical Society. For $3 a day, the VHS allows researchers access to their excellent archives. Virginia is one of a handful of states that is obsessed with its history, so the historical society is a great repository of information.

The first half of my day was sort of a waste because I was seduced by historical artifacts. The VHS keeps great collections of manuscripts so you can actually hold in your hands something Jefferson Davis or Robert Lee wrote.

Unfortunately, these aren't that related to my topic. Or rather, the study of monuments is very related to my topic, but there already exists a wealth of secondary literature on the topic. So I decided it didn't make sense to waste my time looking at documents that have already been analyzed.

For the second part of the day I decided to only look at more recent publications like the magazine of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Southern Partisan. Since these are basically monthly publications, this has been quite a task. Then I stood in the rain and waited for the bus home.

Monday, June 05, 2006


So, only a few days can elapse before I begin to complain about something. It is true that the funding gods have smilied upon my summer project. However, Harvard's funding system requires me to scrape by for most of my project. Harvard only gives half the total amount awarded at the beginning of the summer. The other half is given next fall. But when I wrote my proposal, I requested very specific amounts to be used this summer. This means that I may have to get a loan from the First Bank of Mommy-Daddy, but I can't imagine that everyone has that option.

Second, but less important complaint: the museums in which I will be doing archival research are only open for a few hours a few days a week, and charge to use the facilities. This would be less of an issue had I gotten the entire grant award at the beginning of the summer. Since I have to use the archives for multipe days, this cost will add up.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I Forgot!

I just realized that I forgot to explain why I am going to Alabama. In a tiny town in the north of the state, the city commission has just voted to erect a new memorial to soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy.

You can read about the city commission's decision here:
The decision to erect the monument has polarized the city down racial lines. But unlike Richmond and Atlanta, Moulton is mostly white (75%).

The monument is to be paid for by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), and will be erected on the courthouse lawn. As the commission faced criticism for what appeared an endorsement of the Confederate cause, the commission announced that it would also support a monument to Union soldiers, should any citizen support such an initiative. Sure enough, at another town meeting, a black woman approached the commission with the idea to construct a union monument. What I've surmised so far, though, was that this move was purely symbolic. To my knowledge, the Union project is yet unfunded.

Here's where I hope the blog comes in handy: does anyone have any suggestions for how to incorporate the Alabama part of this project with the Virginia and Georgia part? Moulton is majority white, whereas the other two cities are majority black. But I just can't part with Alabama because its so fascinating that they're constructing a monument right now. And the fact that they're erecting the monument now lends a currency to my project.