Truth, consequences and ‘Fame’
By Gary R. Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
Since the tragedy of the Emanuel Nine, folks across Rowan have asked me what I know about the broader controversy that historians today call “Confederate memory.” The subject has been extensively studied over the past decade, from a recent book by the president of Harvard University to research done in our library’s history room by my colleagues Reggie Brown and Sue and Ed Curtis. What observant historians have come to understand is the deep and multifaceted complexity of the issues involved — from the display of the flag to the character of government to the future of memorials — both with our ancestors and for us today.
For example, in researching my “Ramble Through Rowan History” series, I ran across the Civil War deserter Allison Lippard, who lived near Ebenezer Lutheran Church. After he was captured at Gettysburg, this Rowan native went over to the other side. Lippard came home after the war but became the victim of “hate” in his attempts to make a living. Bankrupted, he became a coal miner in Illinois, where his descendants still live. Lippard’s antebellum neighbor, Mary Moore, was the real instigator behind the famous Salisbury Bread Riot. In fact most of their neighborhood held anti-Confederate meetings in 1863, eventually quashed by local authorities. No one my age was taught such things in the public schools back during the Civil War Centennial. And yet, now they pop up when one looks for complexity, just as the many sides to the issues that have arisen in the wake of the recent Charleston tragedy.
We are learning to think differently today. History as we now see it has qualities that mimic the quantum: Ideas and concepts, even those which are contradictory to each other, can be in different places at the same time. There is little that is linear to our present, and we are finding out how convoluted was our past.
I learned that lesson anew when I returned to the primary documents on the Salisbury Monument. There are only two accounts: the one in the Post at the 1909 dedication and the subsequent analysis of the event by the state historical commission chairman, Dr. R.D.W. Connor. The first tells us nothing new; it has been reprinted and examined almost to exhaustion. The second, however, is illuminating from a be-in-several-places-at-once perspective, in that it gives us “context” — how our monument relates to others similar to it — and “portent” — conveying facts that will weigh on us as we go into the proposed “conversation” about what could or should be done about it, and us.
Connor reported that a dozen Confederate monuments were in the works at the time the Salisbury monument was erected. Many, as in the case of Salisbury’s “Fame the Muse” holding up the fallen hoplite, resulted from a statewide effort of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to make a permanent “remembrance” of the combat heritage of men in their county. We’ve known that. However, in his report, Connor illuminates something forgotten since. The monument campaigns of that day included tributes to Junaluska, the famous figure of the Trail of Tears, in Robbinsville; to Daniel Boone, with an arrowhead-shaped marker at Boone’s Cave; to local militiamen of the French and Indian War at Fort Dobbs in Statesville; and to the War of 1812 hero Otway Burns in his namesake town Burnsville. There was even another Muse, “Clio”, enshrined at the Revolutionary Guilford Battlefield. These ALL were, Connor observed, part of the state’s “whole history movement.” And Salisbury was a part of that whole.
What was going on here? In part, it was the perpetual fact of history that the winners get to retell the story. North Carolina had in the early 1900s espoused three cultural directions: economic development with industrialization, political rule by Democrats, and the social separation of the races and classes. The wives of the very Democrats who invested in the textile mills and tobacco road and brought graded schools to community — e.g., Mayor Boyden in Salisbury — were the leaders of the UDC in the monument efforts. “Fame” was built because of the dedicated efforts of the wife of a former congressman, the mother of a United States senator and the poet daughter of a fallen Confederate hero. All Democrats, all New South aristocrats. Thousands of families, probably a few of them black, came from all over the region to the dedication. Why? Because, significantly, Salisbury put a special touch on the whole project, which others embodied in the pop-ups of the New South lauded.
R.D.W. Connor illuminated the whole subject in a way no one, to my knowledge, has examined before. “The most notable event of the year 1909, indeed the most notable event in the entire history of Confederate monument building in North Carolina … was the unveiling … in Salisbury,” he reported to the legislature. He extolled both the “artistic value” and the “patriotic significance” of the piece.
Being an authoritative voice of the new direction North Carolina was taking, Connor also put his own context on the event, and in doing so presents us today with the portent of our time. He characterizes the other CSA statues as being solely about “the love of his people for the Confederate soldier.” What some of us today like to subsume into heritage, which others do not like, or accept.
“But,” he told all North Carolinians, “the Rowan monument” was also about “infinitely more. It is the embodiment of the spirit of the Confederacy.” What some today want to call hate, and others, heritage.
Connor, however, had a third way to talk about it, one Salisburians of more than one shade of the rainbow and one place on the political spectrum have expressed to me in recent days. The story told by Fame was “a tragedy,” a piece of local heritage, to be sure, yet an artifact of universal and timeless significance. The monument constituted “art, real enduring, inspiring art.”
And so it was, and has been, to some degree, since. As we go into what our conversations, let us remember that the simplest of ideas and the most subtle of perceptions can be simultaneously present and in different places at the same time. As can we.
• • •
• “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina”:
Background information and photos of Salisbury’s Confederate Monument are part of the digital publishing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
• Sources listed in the digital archive’s information on the Salisbury monument include a link to R.D.W. Connor’s report to the legislature:
Dr. Gary R. Freeze is a professor of history at Catawba College. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Piedmont history, as well as an eighth-grade state history textbook. He is current completing the third volume of his local heritage trilogy, “The Catawbans,” a nationally acclaimed project sponsored by the people of Catawba County.