The author and her mother, Louise Cummings Maynor, on the Pacific Coast Highway, circa 1973. Louise’s great-grandfather, Henderson Oxendine, fought and died in the Reconstruction Era’s Lowrie War.
Georgia is also home to an utterly unique Confederate monument that rivals only Mount Rushmore in its permanence and impact. The carvings at Stone Mountain were initiated around the same time that most southern cities installed Confederate monuments. Stone Mountain itself had hosted the modern revival of the Ku Klux Klan at a rally and cross-burning on Thanksgiving in 1915. A year later, the mountain’s owner, an active Klan member, deeded the north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which began planning an elaborate bas-relief carving on the mountain. Their vision involved an enormous portrayal of Confederate soldiers riding with Klan members. The first sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, began the project but World War I arrived and funds were tight, so, instead, Borglum settled on Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. But after a year spent only carving Lee’s head, Borglum was fired from the project and it took decades—and public funds—to complete the monument. Stone Mountain became a state park in 1958 “as a memorial to the Confederacy,” according to a newspaper. The writer might have added “and a backlash to the Civil Rights Movement.”24
According to one source, Borglum was fired because the creators of Mount Rushmore offered him their job. He spent the last sixteen years of his life working in South Dakota on a monument that, at first, seems like a tribute to American democracy. But it is also a monument to western expansion and a fantasy about the disappearance of Indians from public life. Borglum was obsessed with colossal works that would survive geologic time scales, but it also seems that he was obsessed with white supremacy. He had no ties to the Confederacy but had strong views on sustaining the purity of the white race. He wrote in letters that he feared a “mongrel horde” would overrun “the ‘Nordic’ purity of the West.” According to Smithsonian magazine, he once said, “I would not trust an Indian, off-hand, 9 out of 10 [times], where I would not trust a white man 1 out of 10.”25
But aside from Borglum’s involvement, Mount Rushmore holds a deeper message. The National Park Service claims that visitors are witnessing “a rich heritage we all share,” but the claim on that heritage is much deeper for Indigenous people. The Black Hills are specifically sacred to these tribes, a site of creation and renewal where ceremonies are conducted. In the words of one journalist, “The Lakota and others say that Mount Rushmore isn’t just a piece of art they dislike; it’s a piece of art they dislike that, to put it in European terms, has been forcibly installed in their own church.” In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the Lakotas were entitled to a $1 billion settlement for the government’s theft following the 1868 treaty, but Lakota nations have refused to take the money—they want the land. American Indian leaders from across the country, not just those from the tribes most affected, have rejected Mount Rushmore since the late 1960s.26
Many people who object to removing or contextualizing these memorials say that doing so is erasing history. Whose history? What process should we use to agree on which history we remember? These folks have nothing to fear; the nation’s history of white supremacy has been enshrined in treaties, laws, and policies; it cannot be erased. These monuments have become symbolic ways to venerate those laws. Black Americans and American Indians are southerners too, and their histories deserve to be remembered. Understanding the correct history—and the impact of false narratives on those most damaged by this history—must be the first step to a more inclusive public memory.
Many people who object to removing or contextualizing these memorials say that doing so is erasing history. Whose history? What process should we use to agree on which history we remember?
Native people are consistently engaged in their own commemoration practices. In North Carolina, Lumbees are seeking acknowledgement of their efforts to fight racial injustice and renaming places considered important to them. The Lowrie War, in which my great-great-grandfather Henderson Oxendine fought and died, had no public markers until 2016, when the state historical commission finally settled upon text that would be suitably neutral. According to an archivist who works closely with the highway marker program, citizens had been petitioning to place a marker for Henry Berry Lowrie since the 1970s, but the committee could not agree on whether to honor such a notorious outlaw. Jefferson Davis, however, has four markers. Perhaps one of the Jefferson Davis markers should say that he was the only outlaw in North Carolina history with a bounty that was higher than Henry Berry Lowrie’s.27
The 452-mile-segment of Interstate 74 that runs through North Carolina, including Henry Berry Lowrie’s homeland, was named the “Andrew Jackson Highway” in 1963. Imagine Ku Klux Klan Boulevard running alongside Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where—also in 1963—the Klan killed four black girls in a firebombing. It indicates the nation’s investment in white supremacy that an east-west highway which begins at Chattanooga, Tennessee, once a key location of Cherokee government and education, should be named for the person arguably most responsible for their forced Removal. Jackson was arguably born in the western part of North Carolina, close enough to the South Carolina border that either state might claim him. In April 1963—six months before the March on Washington and seven months before the Birmingham bombing—North Carolina lawmakers staked their claim on Jackson’s legacy by naming the highway after him. In 2015, Lumbees finally secured a name change. That year, North Carolina’s only Lumbee representative to the state General Assembly pushed for a law renaming nineteen of the 452 miles the “American Indian Highway.” Each time I drive that stretch of road I feel relieved not to see Andrew Jackson’s name there.28
Just recently, another episode in the southern struggle for equality became part of North Carolina’s public memory. In 2018, the state erected another highway marker, this time commemorating the Lumbees’ defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in 1958. In January of that year, the Klan terrorized two Lumbee families who had broken the segregation barrier—they burned a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee woman who was dating a white man, and another on the lawn of a Lumbee family who had moved into a white neighborhood. A few weeks later, the Klan Grand Dragon, a man known as Catfish Cole, announced a public rally not far from the soon-to-be-named Andrew Jackson Highway. That night, about fifty Klan members drove to Hayes Pond and circled their cars; Cole set up a small generator, a pa system, and a lamp. Most of Robeson County’s Klan members stayed home; the fifty Klan members, women, and children at the rally were part of Cole’s following from South Carolina. Soon they were surrounded by five hundred Indian men, many of whom were veterans; and about fifty Indian women. The group was armed with rifles, shotguns, pistols, and knives.29
When Cole began to speak, the Indian crowd erupted, firing guns into the air and roaring. Cole took off running into the swamps. His panicked followers dropped their guns, jumped in their cars, and drove in all directions, some straight into the ditches that surrounded the field. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. Cole didn’t come out of his hiding place for two days.30
American Indians have their own ideas about public memory and the visibility that accompanies it. Today, 32 percent of the United States’s American Indian population lives in the South. We’re hardly invisible, but, like the monuments that are everywhere in our midst, one has to listen more carefully and look beneath the surface. Some Native people, such as Monacan Nation leader Dean Branham, believe that their path to recognition lies outside the work of wrestling with white supremacy through public commemoration. They wrestle with the ways in which white supremacy is embedded in federal Indian policies, policies which are founded on imperialist ideas and enacted largely, though not exclusively, through western expansion and colonialism. In contrast, when faced with expressions of white dominance, the Lumbees seek to use public memory to expand the definition of American belonging, much as Ely S. Parker did when faced with Robert E. Lee’s revision of history. As we look deeper, American Indians, both in the South and the West, clarify something that is often clouded in the field of southern studies: the indelible connection between the South and the nation; and the embedded nature of American Indian history within United States history.31
This article appeared in the “Here/Away” Issue (vol. 25, no. 4: Winter 2019).
MALINDA MAYNOR LOWERY is a is a professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill and directs the Center for the Study of the American South. She is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Her second book, The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle, was published by UNC Press in 2018. She has written articles and essays on topics including American Indian migration and identity, school desegregation, federal recognition, religious music, and foodways.