Threatened by History: The Problems in Preserving the Postbellum Commemorative Landscape

Historic Preservation Thesis

Emily Rinaldi

Liz McEnaney, advisor

This thesis dealt exclusively with monuments commemorating the Confederacy, Confederate soldiers and war heroes, the antebellum South, slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow that endure in public spaces throughout the American South. These postbellum monuments convey, to some, a lasting message of white supremacy and attempt to romanticize a society built upon a system of slave labor. Others defend the significance of these monuments as contributing to their personal understanding of Southern history, identity, and heritage. A moral dilemma emerges when advocating for these monuments’ preservation. In the case of postbellum monuments, the physical fabric bears the message of its history, a history specifically crafted to enforce the political and social ideals of a group of white Southerners vying for power following the reordering of Southern society after the Civil War. Yet it is precisely this history, or its intentional omission, that makes these monuments significant features of the American South’s built history.

Therefore, the preservation of postbellum monuments presents a unique challenge for preservationists advocating on behalf of these historic object while simultaneously contending with opposing stakeholders’ values. Through three cases studies, the Confederate Statue in Alexandria, Virginia, the Liberty Place Monument in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Heyward Shepherd Monument in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, this thesis examined issues of achieving consensus among stakeholder groups, the processes of developing preservation management policies versus their outcomes, and the problems that arise through the mistaken equation of history and heritage. Preservation professionals have the ability to use the past to create effective preservation management policies for contested postbellum monuments, but only as political actors who strongly advocate for the educational value of the historic narrative told by these monuments, not as mediators trying to balance hardline stakeholder values.