“Legacies of Triumph": African American Women’s Memorialization in Public History Sites

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:50 PM
Boulevard A (Hilton Chicago)
Alexandria Russell, University of South Carolina
African American women have been publicly memorialized within the southern physical landscape since the nineteenth century. The momentum of the Civil Rights and Black Studies movements created a pathway for their memorialization during the late twentieth century in public history sites, including statues, parks, historic sites, museums. This paper explores the evolution of African American women’s public commemoration. Despite its legacy as the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia is the location of the first National Park Service Historic Site centered around an African American woman. The memorialization of the Maggie Lena Walker Home in the 1970s demonstrates the trajectory of African American commemoration in a national context and is a striking contrast to the southern physical landscape filled with monuments of the Confederacy. Historic sites created to honor the legacies of Charlotte Hawkins Brown in North Carolina and Celia Mann in South Carolina during the seventies and eighties highlight the emergence of African American public history on local and state levels in the South. African American local communities have been loyal to honoring the legacies of African American women in public spaces and were committed to creating dynamic African American public history in the face of a landscape filled with monuments to the lost cause. In 2017, as the controversial removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, VA garnered national attention, a statue of Maggie Lena Walker was unveiled less than one hundred miles away in Richmond. Additionally, current dissatisfaction with memorials commemorating the Confederacy is connected with an ongoing desire to reshape the southern physical landscape. In short, the memorialization of African American women in traditional public history memorials in the late twentieth century highlights the loyalty of African American communities in commemorating their own past and transforming the southern landscape.