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Inaugural Issue: 1993

Landmarks of Power

Building a Southern Past, 1885–1915

by Catherine W. Bishir

In light of the events in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12, we share this excerpted essay from our 1993 inaugural issue.

In 1901, the speaker at the dedication of the Olivia Raney Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, compared the city’s landmarks with those of Washington, D.C. In the national capital, “three great architectural monuments” possessed “symbolic significance”: the United States Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Library of Congress. “So in our smaller sphere,” three landmarks of Raleigh stood out. First was the old State Capitol, “symbolizing the commonwealth’s loyalty to constitutional liberty.” Near it stood two newer landmarks. “Our handsome Confederate monument” on the Capitol grounds offered “a token of our loyalty to the memory of our fallen heroes who laid down their lives in defense of those principles for which Washington so successfully fought.” And the library, given by local businessman Richard Beverly Raney in memory of his wife, provided “a memorial of the highest type of our cultured Christian womanhood”—a classically detailed building in which “the simplicity and elegance of its graceful proportions and unpretentious appearance” evoked its namesake’s exemplary character, while its proximity to the war memorial recalled “that noble band of women” (including Mrs. Raney) “to whose untiring efforts we are chiefly indebted for our Confederate monument.”1

In this address, the Reverend M. M. Marshall of Christ Episcopal Church in Raleigh identified three important types of landmarks that gained dominion throughout the turn-of-the-century South. In addition to revering antebellum buildings as survivors from a glorious past, leaders of his generation employed the twin arts of sculpture and architecture to assert their own definition of the past and its relationship to the present and the future. As Marshall’s ceremonial comments illuminated, these new landmarks represented a set of interlocking beliefs, including the renewed place of the vindicated South in the American mainstream, the rightness and patriotism of the Confederate cause, and the association of classical architecture with idealized southern virtues.

The creation of symbolic sculpture and architecture by the southern elite functioned as part of their reclamation of regional and national power.

View of the North Carolina state capitol and the Confederate monument, postcard c. 1953. Courtesy the North Carolina Postcard Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Seen in the context of contemporary cultural and political events, the creation of symbolic sculpture and architecture by the southern elite functioned as part of their reclamation of regional and national power. As they placed monuments in prime civic spaces, whether commemorating the heroes of the Confederacy, the patriotic women of colonial Edenton, or the Revolutionary fighters of the Cape Fear region, these leaders spelled out chapter after chapter of a saga of patrician Anglo-Saxon continuity, of order, stability, and harmony. The location of monuments in the state’s principal civic places lent authority to the version of history they represented, while at the same time the monuments claimed those public spaces and thereby defined the setting for public life. And, just as monuments commemorated specific heroes and events, so architecture commemorated and asserted the renewed continuity of the values and way of life those heroes represented. In public and institutional buildings, classicism universally reiterated the ideal of a venerable and stable hierarchy, while in residential architecture the Colonial Revival symbolizing “the big-heartedness and hospitality which are the rightful heritage of the southern people” recreated in modern terms the deferential social relations the antebellum plantation represented.

Thus, just as they took control of the political process during the decades spanning the turn of the century, the southern elite also codified a view of history that fortified their position in the present and their vision of the future. By erecting public landmarks celebrating that history and proclaiming a legitimizing continuum from the Old South to the New South, they shaped both public memory and public life. Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest cities in 1890 and its main centers of political and cultural activity, provide case studies of this process during a defining period of crisis.2

The Southern Elite as Shapers of Public Memory

Political and cultural elites drew upon the imagery of past golden ages to shape public memory. . .

Throughout America in the decades just before and after 1900, political and cultural elites drew upon the imagery of past golden ages to shape public memory in ways that supported their own authority. By commissioning monumental sculpture that depicted American heroes and American virtues in classical terms, and by reviving architectural themes from colonial America as well as from classical Roman and Renaissance sources, cultural leaders affirmed the virtues of stability, harmony, and patriotism. They were responding to sweeping changes in the nation’s fabric, including national reunification after the Civil War, industrial modernization, growing immigration and social tensions, and rising American nativism, nationalism, and imperialism. Leading patrons ranged from the new princes of industry, who saw America as the site of a second Renaissance, to the embattled “native” aristocrats of various regions; they worked in concert with Beaux Arts–educated architects and artists who brought European training and ideas to their practices in burgeoning American cities. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago presented a spectacular display of a set of official American ideals. An ensemble of heroic sculpture and classical architecture, laid out in the formal plan and rationally divided sectors promoted by the City Beautiful movement, offered an image of a unified, stable, hierarchical Anglo-Saxon nation asserting its place in the world, an image that soon reached into communities of the North and South.3

Unveiling of the Confederate monument, “Silent Sam,” June 2, 1913. Courtesy the North Carolina Postcard Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The principal shapers of public memory and patrons of public sculpture and architecture in Raleigh and Wilmington were likewise members of an established elite. They were akin to aristocrats throughout the nation, and (as Marshall’s remarks at the library dedication revealed) they were well acquainted with national cultural trends and their relationship to them. They also shared among themselves certain backgrounds, experiences, and values. All were Democrats, and, with a few notable exceptions, they were members of families of long established social and economic prominence, who had customarily participated in national and international currents of trade and taste. Many boasted colonial ancestry and had traditions of service in the Revolutionary and Confederate causes. Their families were interlaced by ties of ancestry and marriage, as well as by education—typically at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for men and St. Mary’s, an Episcopal school in Raleigh, for women—and by religion, for most of this group were members of the Episcopal church, a denomination long associated with the state’s upper class and with the values of hierarchy and social stability.

Although they had much in common with patricians elsewhere in the nation, these North Carolinians had their own special concerns as well as their own version of history, for as southerners they alone among American elites had experienced devastating military and political defeat along with jolting impoverishment. Yet, in contrast to blue bloods in many northern cities, they managed to regain their political as well as social and cultural clout. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, they were in the process of consolidating their reclamation of power and position and reasserting their status as vindicated patriots in a reunified America. They recalled a golden age before the Civil War, when “Southern statesmen directed the policies of the nation,” when “aristocratic” southern society was led by “the wisest, the strongest, the most learned,” and when their families had constituted the upper tier in a hierarchical society and slavery-based economy. Although many of them had opposed secession, they nevertheless had sacrificed family members and fortunes to the southern cause. During Reconstruction, they had seen their world turned upside down and their political power and wealth shrivel, as “democracy” replaced “aristocracy,” and power passed into the hands of black and ordinary white citizens who were “not so able or cultured.” In the mid-1870s, white Conservatives regained political power and soon revived the Democratic party label in North Carolina. Calling themselves “Redeemers” and led by Civil War governor Zebulon Vance, who retook the governor’s office in 1876, they considered themselves saviors of the state. With a series of constitutional amendments, the Democratic legislature rolled back many of the egalitarian measures of Reconstruction and took control of local government. As one of their number recalled, “For twenty years this new system remained in force and quiet reigned.”4

Protesters in Durham, NC, removed the statue from atop this 1924 monument, “In Memory of the Boys who Wore Gray,” on August 14, 2017. Photo by @xarismartinez via Instagram.

Along with recapturing political dominance, members of the old aristocracy gradually adjusted to a new economy. Some remained agriculturalists and renegotiated farm labor arrangements, while many moved to town to engage in business and professions, where their prospects were tied increasingly to national corporate networks. Even as they adapted economically, the leading families perpetuated their customary social networks. Almost in inverse relationship to their threadbare circumstances, they revitalized elaborate social rituals and public rhetoric, which they adorned with carefully polished silver and phrases. And, like their compatriots throughout the nation, they entered into cultural and patriotic pursuits that asserted their accustomed political, economic, and social dominance.

In the 1880s and early 1890s, patrician Democrats began to call for a rehabilitation of state and southern history and the erection of civic monuments dedicated to that history, transforming the cult of defeat into the dominant culture of power regained.

In their hands, the creation of symbolic landmarks unfolded in two principal phases, punctuated by political events. In the 1880s and early 1890s, patrician Democrats began to call for a rehabilitation of state and southern history and the erection of civic monuments dedicated to that history, transforming the cult of defeat into the dominant culture of power regained. At the end of the century, the turbulent political campaigns of 1898 and 1900 riveted public attention and generated new themes in the Democrats’ use of history. After 1900 the re-entrenched elite turned with unprecedented energy and conviction to the shaping of public memory and the creation of official symbols, which quickly established a codified tradition and transformed the setting of public life.

The Confederate Monument and Southern Patriotism

In 1883, Samuel A’Court Ashe, a Raleigh newspaper publisher, politician, and historian, returned from a trip to Boston fired up by New Englanders’ commemorative zeal. As a Confederate veteran, a native of the Wilmington area, and a descendant of colonists and Revolutionary heroes of the Cape Fear region, Ashe typified North Carolina’s early leaders in collecting and publishing state history. Upon his return to Raleigh, he immediately began a series of articles in his News and Observer urging North Carolinians to celebrate their own history and patriotic shrines.5

In the same spirit, and probably influenced by Ashe, Alfred Moore Waddell addressed the Raleigh Ladies Memorial Association on Confederate Memorial Day, 10 May 1885. Waddell, likewise a former Confederate officer and a descendant of Cape Fear colonists and Revolutionary War officers, was a Wilmington resident and former congressman who had become one of the state’s most popular public speakers. The sponsor of the occasion was one of the many local Ladies Memorial Associations established throughout the South in the 1860s to assure the proper burial of Confederate soldiers and the marking and decoration of their graves. Through participation in Ladies Memorial Associations, many genteel southern women first stepped into public roles as guardians of regional memory and history. For certain tasks, they enlisted the aid of male relatives, friends, and political figures, especially for speeches on Confederate Memorial Day.6  In his oration of 1885, Waddell issued a call to memorialize the state’s heroes and laid out an agenda for action.

[Waddell] proclaimed that the period of mourning after the war was over, as was the era of poverty that excused failure to build monuments to the state’s heroes.

He proclaimed that the period of mourning after the war was over, as was the era of poverty that excused failure to build monuments to the state’s heroes. The state, “though stripped of the sovereignty in which, with her sisters, she once robed herself, has long since put off the habiliments of mourning, and, clad in a new vesture, with renewed hope and courage, is moving majestically onward to a grand destiny.” He pointed out that whereas “every civilized land” had monuments to its greatest sons to inspire and instruct natives and visitors, North Carolina had never erected memorials to her heroes and statesmen. Waddell challenged his audience:

Go to the Capitol at Washington and enter the . . . Hall of Statuary. There is a place reserved in it for two statues from each State, and these places are being rapidly filled by the marble and bronze images of distinguished soldiers and statesmen. Look around for North Carolina’s contribution. It is not there. Go to any other State Capitol, and if its public grounds do not contain some statue or monument in commemoration of its great men, its legislative halls at least are hung with portraits of its Governors. Then come back here to Raleigh—go into your own State Capitol—see at the base of the rotunda those four empty niches—pass through the corridors—enter the Legislative Halls and look around! No monument, no statue, no bust, not even a portrait to remind you that North Carolina ever produced one man that she thought worthy of remembrance. Surely if her gratitude to or appreciation of her dead soldiers and statesmen is to be measured by the number of memorials which she has established in honor of them then it is safe to say that such a sentiment does not exist.

Addressing first the heroes of the recent war, Waddell acknowledged the importance of Confederate monuments already standing in cemeteries across the state, but he insisted that the memory of the Confederate dead “deserve[d] to be perpetuated otherwise than by such memorial marbles as private affection may erect.” He called for public support of civic monuments to the Confederate soldier to reflect “a sentiment alike jealous of the honor of North Carolina, and tenderly grateful to her heroic sons.”7

Bird’s-eye postcard view of State Capitol and grounds (Union Square), Raleigh, probably 1930s. Lower left:Raney mansion and First Baptist Church; lower center: Confederate monument, Olivia Raney Library; centerand upper center: Capitol, Christ Church. Reprinted with permission from the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh.

In the next three decades, the civic memorial movement Waddell envisioned followed precisely the course he laid out. In the 1890s, Civil War memorializing shifted from funereal markers placed in cemeteries to monuments of southern patriotism located in such civic spaces as courthouse greens and town squares. The North Carolina Confederate Monument, on Union Square at the State Capitol, was one of the state’s earliest and certainly its most imposing monument of this new type. It was the project of the North Carolina Monumental Association, led by socially prominent women with links with the older Ladies Memorial Association. Proclaiming that “a land without monuments is a land without memories,” the Monumental Association organized a statewide fundraising campaign. By 1895 these women, with assistance on practical matters from “experienced gentlemen,” oversaw the completion of the state’s official monument to the Confederate soldier.8

On 20 May 1895, some thirty thousand people gathered from across the state for the unveiling of the seventy-five-foot monument that rose at the west end of Union Square, the most prominent public site in the state. The granite column, flanked by bronze figures of a North Carolina cavalryman and artilleryman, and topped by a bronze infantryman, stood on axis with the western portico of the Capitol and faced Hillsborough Street, the premier residential avenue and one of four axial streets that defined the city plan. The Monumental Association’s president, Nancy Haywood Branch Jones, and other dignitaries presided over elaborate ceremonies in which the seven-year-old granddaughter of Gen. Stonewall Jackson pulled the cord that let the draperies slide from the monument like “the garments of Elijah.” The orator of the day was Alfred Moore Waddell.9

Students talking under “Silent Sam,” 1939–1942. Courtesy of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

Again Waddell set forth an emerging agenda—the “true” history of the Confederate cause and North Carolina’s role in that story. His hour-long oration was headlined in the News and Observer as “A Masterly Defence of the Cause for Which They Fought —In History’s Clear Light.” It featured the retelling of southern history then sweeping the region —a southern interpretation that played an essential role in the gradual reunion between North and South on southern Democrats’ terms. Waddell began by observing that a southerner reading history written by northern men could not but recall “what Froude said about history generally, namely that it seemed to him ‘like a child’s box of letters with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to select such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.’”

He then set forth “the plain unvarnished truth concerning the causes of and the responsibility for the war in which men to whose memory this monument is erected, were sacrificed.” This was necessary because

for thirty years past, my countrymen, kinsmen and my friends have been pilloried before the world as ignorant, barbarous, cruel traitors and rebels, who, without the slightest justification or excuse, sought to destroy the best government under the sun, and deluged a continent in blood. The charge is still made and reiterated in conversation, in school books, in magazine articles, in public speeches, in public records, and in published history.

To counter this “monstrous perversion of the truth,” Waddell insisted, “self-respect and a decent regard for the memory of our heroic dead” required a statement of “the facts and the proof.”10

Waddell presented the southern cause as part of the heroic tradition of American patriotism. For the throng gathered around the monument, the message was illustrated by the inscriptions, symbols, and figures on the monument itself, and Waddell’s speech reinforced the meaning of those emblems. Drawing first upon the North Carolina state seal on the monument, with its date of 20 May 1775, he lauded “the men of Mecklenburg” who “on this day one hundred twenty years ago” declared their independence from British tyranny: “[F]irst of all Americans, despite the doubting Thomases—[they] renounced allegiance to the British crown, declared themselves a free and independent people.” With this Waddell invoked belief in the 20 May 1775 “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,” an alleged event disputed by historians but popularly revered. When North Carolina seceded from the Union on 20 May 1861, the secession convention authorized a state flag emblazoned with the two dates to glorify the parallel between the two declarations of independence.11 Amid the turn-of-the-century passion for southern vindication, selection of 20 May 1895 as the day to unveil the state’s Confederate monument reaffirmed the linkage of the Confederate and Revolutionary causes.

Students protest the “Silent Sam” statue on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus on August 22, 2017. Photo by @xarismartinez via Instagram.

Next, Waddell traced the nation’s early history from a southern perspective, stressing the retention of states’ rights, including secession, under the Constitution—a theme emphasized on the monument by the seal of the Confederate States with its image of George Washington. He defended the southern people—”Deo Vindice,” said the Confederate motto on the monument—who had “sought peace and not a quarrel” and were “forced to defend their liberties and their homes.” And, sharing in an ongoing process of affirming North Carolina’s contribution to the Confederacy, he recited the saga of North Carolina’s long and valiant soldiering as a source of state pride. Her men had proved themselves “worthy of their Revolutionary sires” in battles from the first to the last of the war: their motto “First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox” is writ large on the monument. He ended with an encomium to the Confederate soldier, loyal like his fathers to the Union, but compelled by love of his state to come to her defense. Surely gesturing to the bronze infantryman outlined against the sky, Waddell declaimed, “Stand then, bronze image of him who wore the gray! Thou art a triumph of Art; he was God’s gift to his country. Thou shalt perish, but he shall live forever in the hearts of his people.”

Waddell’s oration struck sympathetic chords. Fellow Wilmingtonian and business leader James Sprunt wrote, “You were first in the hearts of your countrymen yesterday . . . [O]n all sides the speech is said to be the best ever delivered in North Carolina.” Little anticipating the direction of the future, Sprunt predicted that “the eloquent words of your masterful address on probably the last occasion of such public honours to the Lost Cause will be repeated from generation to generation by those who look with reverence and admiration upon the beautiful shaft in Raleigh.” Democratic spokesman Henry Groves Connor of Wilson praised Waddell for his “setting forth of our side of the question,” noting that “we must preserve our integrity and make our fight in the struggle now con- fronting us. It behooves us to purify our hearts and educate our minds to meet the common enemy.”12

The White Supremacy Crusade

“To recapture political power by splitting the opposition, the Democrats, long known as “the white man’s party,” set upon a “White Supremacy Crusade.” Such campaigns swept across the South, but the one in North Carolina was especially vicious. . .”

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The Codification and Commemoration of Southern History

[They] led a surge of patriotic, cultural, and historical activity.

It was in this highly charged context that in 1900 the state’s Democratic leaders inaugurated an era of “historical awakening.” Many felt that North Carolina had lagged behind while other states had progressed in historical activities; now they proceeded to remedy the situation. In the fall of 1900, in the auditorium of Raleigh’s new Olivia Raney Library, prominent Democrats organized the State Literary and Historical Association. This group worked in affiliation with kindred organizations: its published reports included news from the recently formed North Carolina chapters of such hereditary and patriotic groups as the Colonial Dames of America, the Daughters of the Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Order of the Cincinnati, the Sons of the Revolution, the United Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Many people belonged to more than one of these organizations. They constituted a statewide network of men and women interested in the histories of their own patrician families and of the state at large, which they usually perceived as one and the same.24

These men and women led a surge of patriotic, cultural, and historical activity. They collected and published historical records; published state histories and school textbooks; initiated “North Carolina Day” in the public schools; established and expanded historical museum collections; and, with equal fervor, marked and memorialized historic sites, events, and personages. These endeavors had less to do with an obsession with the past than with the belief that a proper understanding of history and state pride, like educational reform and literary production, were necessary components of a modern American state. A remarkable sense of shared purpose threaded through these pursuits. Just as members of ancestral patriotic groups traced their family lineages to colonial and Revolutionary forebears in order to affirm their place in contemporary society, so like-minded politicians and historians traced political lineage back to those heroic ancestors to affirm political legitimacy.25

Grafitti on “Silent Sam,” April, 1968. Photo by Hugh M. Morton. Courtesy the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

Their memorial work moved beyond commemoration of the Confederacy to mark a continuum of patrician patriotism.

With competing visions of the state’s past, present, and future all but silenced in official discourse, these leaders shared a powerful sense that both in politics and in the culture at large, matters had been returned to their correct alignment. Again they occupied their unquestioned and proper place in a stable, racially tiered society.26 From this perspective they codified a lasting version of the state’s history that tied Old South to New, interweaving old family heritage, Anglo-Saxon supremacy, and military and political heroism. The saga began with the establishment of the “first Anglo-Saxon settlement” in the New World at Roanoke in the 1580s, focused on aristocratic families and the plantation culture they established in the colonial period, and glorified Revolutionary North Carolinians’ early resistance to British tyranny. It lauded the progress of the antebellum era, sanctified the sacrifices and patriotism of North Carolina Confederates, and insisted that their cause had engaged the unified support of the populace. Finally, the story demonized the era of Reconstruction, ennobled the Democratic redemption of the state, and asserted the present era as a rebirth of southern progress and leadership in the nation.27 As they erected memorials to the events and heroes of this narrative, Democratic leaders transformed principal civic spaces into visual illustrations of their saga. In both Wilmington and Raleigh, their memorial work moved beyond commemoration of the Confederacy to mark a continuum of patrician patriotism that wove each chapter into a single epic stretching from the colonial past to the redeemed present.

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The Architecture of the New Old South

“A Well Preserved Colonial Mansion in Dixie. Orton Plantation, Near Wilmington, N.C.” Courtesy the North Carolina Postcard Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The southern elite’s revival of classical and colonial architecture commemorated an entire way of life: the ‘golden age’ before the war. . .”

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The Epitome of the New Southern Order

When North Carolina Democratic leaders organized the state’s official presentation at the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition of 1907, they recapitulated themes that had recently emerged in the state’s life. The exposition combined a celebration of the oldest (1607) establishment of Anglo-Saxon culture in America with a southern-sponsored reunion of blue and gray, a presentation of mod- ern southern race relations, and a certain amount of economic boosterism. Led by Gov. Robert Glenn, North Carolina set out to put on an exhibit “first-class in every respect” to attract investors and “desirable” immigrants. Business leaders presented displays touting the state’s economic progress and opportunities.

Charged with creating a state history exhibit, Mary Hilliard Hinton, editor of the Daughters of the Revolution’s thriving North Carolina Booklet, worked with other prominent women to assemble a dazzling display of the recent “historical awakening in the Old North State.” The exhibit began with depictions of America’s first Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Lost Colony at Roanoke, illustrated by paintings funded by Bennehan Cameron and copied from John White’s 1585 and 1588 drawings of native Indian life. (Miss Hinton noted that this feature was presented simply “to start with the beginning of our state’s history, and not with an ambition to antedate the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown by twenty-two years.”) Displays included photographs of James Sprunt’s collection of portraits of the Lords Proprietors; silver from various “aristocratic” families; pictures of celebrated plantation homes and furniture from a few of them; and a depiction of the Edenton Tea Party scene together with possessions of those patriotic colonial ladies.55

Protective barricades around “Silent Sam,” August 22, 2017. Photo by @xarismartinez via Instagram.

North Carolina’s chief expenditure was on its state building. With each participating state constructing an example of its “typical Colonial” architecture, the exposition managers hoped to create a “Colonial acropolis restful to the eye and satisfying to sentiment,” which would “result in a revival of interest in Colonial architecture, which is really the only distinctive American order of building.” Virginia erected a brick and marble colonial mansion 116 feet long, while Georgia offered a Greek Revival temple modeled on President Roosevelt’s mother’s ancestral home as “a splendid specimen of the old colonial home.” North Carolina leaders chose the Southern Colonial style that had become so popular in the state, a house built of North Carolina pine and “of large colonial design with immense columns and porches.” The North Carolina Building further promoted the style back home by inspiring citizens who visited the exposition to copy it in their own houses. And the North Carolina Architectural Association, which included many of the state’s chief practitioners of the Colonial Revival, held its summer 1907 meeting at the exposition amidst the seaside “Colonial acropolis.”56

In this official display of the state’s self-image, as in the Colonial Revival architecture and commemorative monuments back home, Democratic leaders set forth the values and heritage they intended to shape the state in the new century. Miss Hinton summed up their accomplishment:

The keynote of American life is progress—an excellent and most powerful characteristic; yet harm and ultimate ruin will surely follow in its trail unless safeguarded by conservatism. No study so engenders and promotes the cultivation of this check to vandalism as does History. At last the dominant trait of the Anglo-Saxon race is asserting itself and we are becoming more like our relatives overseas, who guard sacredly whatever bears on their glorious past.57

For the Democratic elite, the book had opened on a redeemed and progressive South that reaffirmed the social order of their antebellum heyday, while embracing a program of modern economic progress. Just as they had taken control of the political process with strategies devised to dictate the present and the future, so at the same time they took control of the region’s history and defined the meaning of the past in a fashion that explained and vindicated the present. By molding public memory of the past, they also shaped the direction of the future. They engaged in a process that, while sharing some features with what has been called the “invention of tradition,” might best be termed the “arranging of tradition.”58 Rather than concocting a history to undergird their position, they employed precisely the same tactic that Alfred Moore Waddell had described in 1895, using the events of the past “like a child’s box of letters with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to select such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose.” Vital to this spelling out of the past was the creation of public, visible, lasting symbols of that past.

Erected to the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy by Ashley Horne Capitol Square, Raleigh, N.C. Courtesy Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Thus between 1890 and 1910 elite Democratic leaders succeeded in forging a symbolic ensemble that defined North Carolina history and public life in accord with their vision of society. Within a short time, both the history they spelled out and the social and political system they had established took on an aura of permanence, which was reinforced in the form of monuments and architecture. So effective was the combined effect of cultural and political control that for many it seemed that the hierarchical, racially segregated South had always been thus, except for the brief aberration of Reconstruction, and presumably would always remain so.

In the mid-twentieth century, challenges to the racial and political structure created by the Democrats in 1900 began to change the South. Far more lasting, however, was the definition of history they had established. Although historians in the middle and late years of the twentieth century have begun to reexamine old assumptions, public memory has been slow to change. In the sagas told by memorials and by the seemingly unbroken continuity of colonial architecture, the old story persists. Through the powerful and lasting language of monuments and architecture, the guardians of the glorious past have continued to guard the past, the present, and the future.

Catherine W. Bishir, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, has degrees in English from the University of Kentucky and Duke University. From 1971 through 2001 she served in various capacities in the Survey and National Register Branch of the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. She is currently Curator in Architectural Special Collections at North Carolina State University, where she has spearheaded creation of the website North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary. Her most recent book is Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770–1900 (UNC Press, 2013).

Special thanks to Xaris Martinez for sharing her photos for this feature.NOTES

The author acknowledges with thanks a 1987 Henry Francis du Pont fellowship at the Winterthur Museum for initial research on this topic. The author also thanks, for critical readings and suggestions, John Bishir, Jerry Cashion, Jeffrey Crow, Catherine Hutchins, James Leloudis, Carl Lounsbury, William Price, Janet Seapker, Dell Upton, Harry Watson, Camille Wells, and Chris Wilson; and for encouragement and assistance in obtaining illustrations and information, Claudia Brown, Ned Cooke, Michael Hill, Elizabeth Reid Murray, Beverly Tetterton, Edward Turberg, Abigail Van Slyck, Harry Warren, and R. Beverly R. Webb.

1.Rev. M. M. Marshall, “Address,” in Exercises at the Opening of the Olivia Raney Library, Held in the Library Hall on the Evening of Thursday, January Twenty-Fourth, 1901 (Capital Printing Co., 1901), 14-15.

2.Wilmington, the Cape Fear River port settled in the early eighteenth century, was from 1850 through 1900 North Carolina’s largest city, with about 20,000 people (56 percent of whom were black) in 1890. Raleigh, the inland capital established in 1792, had in 1890 nearly 13,000 people (50 percent black and 50 percent white). In subsequent decades the Piedmont industrial cities of Charlotte and Winston-Salem drew ahead in population.

3.This summary derives primarily from the following works: Kenneth Ames, “Introduction,” in The Colonial Revival in America, ed. Alan Axelrod (W. W. Norton and Co., 1985); Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 1992); John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1992); Michèle H. Bogart, Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890-1930 (University of Chicago Press, 1989); Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865 to 1913 (Oxford University Press, 1987); Michael Kämmen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991); Robert W. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (University of Chicago Press, 1984); Christopher Wilson, The Myth of Santa Fe (University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming); Richard Guy Wilson et al., The American Renaissance, 1876-1917 (Pantheon, 1979); and Richard Guy Wilson, “Architecture and the Reinterpretation of the Past in the American Renaissance,” Winterthur Portfolio 18 (Spring 1983): 69-87.

4.Quotes from Charles B. Aycock, “The South Regaining Its Prestige,” in Literary and Historical Activities in North Carolina, 1900-1905 (Raleigh Publications of the Historical Commission, 1907), 1:120; and The Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present, ed. Samuel A. Ashe (Charles L. Van Noppen, 1905), 1:36.

5.Harry S. Warren, “Colonel Frederick Augustus Olds and the Founding of the North Carolina Museum of History” (M.A. thesis, East Carolina University, 1988), 20-21. Samuel A’Court Ashe (1840-1938), a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and an Episcopalian, engaged in several occupations, founded the News and Observer in 1881, and produced The Biographical History of North Carolina. See The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell (University of North Carolina Press, 1979-).

6.The Raleigh Ladies Memorial Association was organized in 1866 with Mrs. General L. O’B. Branch (née Nancy Haywood Blount) as president (“Ladies Memorial Association,” the Bishir: Landmarks of Power, News and Observer, 10 May 1903). North and South Carolina and some of Virginia used 10 May as Memorial Day, the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death (Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy, 42). Alfred Moore Waddell (1834-1912), a descendant of colonial general Hugh Waddell and Revolutionary general Francis Nash, practiced law, edited newspapers in Charlotte and Wilmington, and though opposing secession, served as an officer in the war. As a “Redeemer” Conservative and Democrat, he was elected to Congress (1870-79); he wrote Some Memories of My Life and works of Cape Fear history (Powell, ed., Dictionary of North
Carolina Biography).

7. Ladies Memorial Association Records, North Carolina State Archives, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh. As Waddell noted, the state had previously (1857) erected a bronze cast of Houdon’s statue of George Washington on the Capitol grounds. Still earlier (1816), the state had commissioned a marble figure of Washington from the celebrated Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, which stood in the rotunda of the State House until a fire in 1831 destroyed both the building and the statue.

8.See Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy, on the shift from funereal to civic memorials. Similar trends took place in the North. According to Ralph W. Widener, Jr.’s, Confederate Monuments (privately published, 1982), in North Carolina only the Concord monument (1892) predates the Raleigh monument on a civic site. On the North Carolina Monumental Association, see Branch Papers, North Carolina Division of Archives and History. Officers included Mrs. Armistead Jones (president), Mrs. Garland Jones, and Mrs. John W. Hinsdale. Mrs. Armistead Jones (née Nancy Haywood Branch) was the daughter of Gen. Lawrence O’Bryan Branch (railroad president and Confederate officer) and Nancy Haywood Blount Branch, founding president of the Ladies Memorial Association. Her husband, Armistead Jones, was a Confederate officer, Raleigh attorney, and Democratic party leader; the couple belonged to Christ Episcopal Church (see “Armistead Jones” in Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography). Among the couple’s best-known descendants is novelist Armistead Maupin. First quote, undated (February 1895) clipping, Scrapbook, Branch Papers, North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

9. News and Observer, 20, 21 May 1895. The granite came from Mount Airy, N.C., quarries. In contrast to the popular mass-produced soldier figures, the figures were modeled on North Carolina regiments and fashioned by Bavarian sculptor Ferdinand Von Miller. Prominent on the dais were Mrs. Armistead Jones, Mrs. Gen. Branch, Mrs. Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and Mrs. Gen. D. H. Hill. Rev. Aldert Smedes, principal of St. Mary’s School, offered the prayer. Julia Jackson Christian unveiled the monument.

10. See Fred Arthur Bailey, “The Textbooks of the ‘Lost Cause’: Censorship and the Creation of Southern State Histories,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 75 (Fall 1991): 507-33, for a similar 1895 speech by Stephen D. Lee to the United Confederate Veterans in Houston, part of the effort of the “South’s aristocrats” to defend “not merely the South, but, more importantly, the embattled status of southern patricians” (508).

11.Richard N. Current, “That Other Declaration, May 20, 1775-May 20, 1975,” North Carolina Historical Review 54 (April 1977): 169-91. North Carolina Confederate leaders’ usage of the symbolic date paralleled the Confederate government’s choice of 22 February as its founding date and the use of Washington’s image on its official seal.

12. James Sprunt to Alfred Moore Waddell, 21 May 1895, and H. G. Connor to Alfred Moore Waddell, 23 May 1895, Alfred Moore Waddell Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (See political leader Henry Groves Connor and his son, historian and archivist Robert D. W. Connor, in Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography.)


24.The qualification for membership read “any white resident of the State, or North Carolinian residing out of the State, who subscribes to the purposes of the Association” (Literary and Historical Activities in North Carolina, 1-3, 6).

25.  From these roots also emerged the state’s tradition of distinguished historians as well as the fruitful relationship between historical pursuits and civic and political leaders. See William S. Price, Jr., “Plowing Virgin Fields: State Support for Southern Archives, Particularly North Carolina,” Carolina Comments 19 (March 1991): 41-47.


55. Mary Hilliard Hinton, The North Carolina Historical Exhibit at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition (Edwards and Broughton, 1916), 7, 9.

56. The Official Blue Book of the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition, ed. Charles Russell Kelley (Colonial Publishing Co., Inc., 1909), 367-68. Lumber merchant Kenneth Howard in Dunn, North Carolina, was one who copied the North Carolina building in his residence (Davyd Foard Hood, “Kenneth L. Howard House National Register Nomination,” Survey and Planning Branch, North Carolina Division of Archives and History). On the NCAA meeting see Southern Architect and Building News, 28 December 1907. Predecessor and later contemporary of the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the group included as founding leaders Charles Barrett (vice president), Charles McMillan, C. E. Hartge, and C. C. Hook. On the NCAA and the North Carolina American Institute of Architects, see Brown, “The Day of the Great Cities” in Bishir et al., Architects and Builders in North Carolina, 337-40.

57. Hinton, North Carolina Historical Exhibit, 7.

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