The Antebellum Houses of Natchez, Mississippi and Monuments of The Lost Cause

Natchez- Vidalia Bridge, Mississippi River

Like a lot of bloggers, we keep an idea list for future posts as well as rough outlines of posts we’ve decided to scrap or for some reason or other just couldn’t figure out how we wanted to write the story about our travels there.  But the events several days ago on August 11th and 12th in Charlottesville, Virginia, had us thinking about a road-trip we took last year in September on a loop through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.  We were intent on learning more about the history and culture of some of the southern States of the USA, visiting a few of the Civil War battlefields and following along the path of the Civil Rights Movement landmarks from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In September of 2016, in the waning months of our former president, we thought we were firmly on the path to social justice. Those members belonging to the radical fringe of civil society, the White Nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and others, slithered underground until given a green light during the presidential campaign to come out in the open.  And, after the inauguration of # 45 and despite months of warnings with the “Muslim Ban,” the dismantling brick by brick of years and decades-old statesmanship programs and policies, the threat of our social safety net being ripped out from under us and the deportation of some of the most vulnerable among us, we were still taken aback.  We watched with horror and sick hearts, as raw bigotry and hateful, anti-Semitic and racial epithets spewed from the mouths of white men (and a few women) carrying guns, knives, clubs and shields as blatant acts of intimidation.  Parading along Charlottesville, Virginia’s streets, the marchers waved their Tiki torches and carried Nazi banners with swastikas along with Confederate flags.  It wasn’t hard to compare them to old documentaries we’d watched featuring long ago Klan processions, cross burnings and the news clips from Hitler’s Third Reich rallies. And the impetus? A call to “Unite the Right” and the threatened removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee, the military commander of the Confederate States of America and a potent symbol of the Lost Cause.

Which brings us to the pretty little town of Natchez, Mississippi, population somewhere less than 25,000, where we spent a couple of nights in September of 2016, en route to Vicksburg.  And our decision not to write about this town until now.  Because, just as Confederate monuments symbolize white supremacy and a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery, the stunning collection of beautifully maintained antebellum homes pay tribute to the Lost Cause and romanticize a genteel south memorialized forever in the tradition of “Gone with the Wind.”  Vast fortunes were made growing and trading cotton and sugarcane and shipping goods upriver on the Mississippi to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans.  Staggering wealth made on the backs of black slave labor.

 

 

We’d first learned of this town through the Penn Cage novels of Greg Iles and wanted to see some of the heritage architecture he’d written of.  Unlike so many of the South’s grand cities of the era, Natchez came through the Civil War almost unscathed with many of the mansions built before 1860 still surviving.  In the historic downtown, block after block of antebellum homes can be admired from curbside with eighty-two of the Natchez homes in the historic downtown and along the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river, earning a distinguished entry into the National Register of Historic Places.  Natchez brags, discreetly and ever-so-politely, that half the millionaires in the US resided there before the Civil War and it’s estimated that almost one-hundred of the grand neoclassical and Greek Revival-style structures could rightfully be called Antebellum mansions.

We stopped by the Natchez Visitor Reception Area and picked up tickets to see a few of the Antebellum Mansions which have been turned into living museums with tours offered hourly.  Depending on the time of year, as many as twenty of the mansions may be open for tours.  The tours we picked lasted about an hour each and we split them up, doing two the first afternoon of our visit and a couple of tours along with a stroll about the Natchez City Cemetery (also on the National Register of Historic Places) the following day.

Stanton Hall –   Occupying an entire two-acre city block and surrounded by a wrought iron fence, this Greek Revival residence perfectly met our expectations as to how an antebellum mansion should look. Built in 1857 by Irish immigrant and cotton merchant, Frederick Stanton, the mansion was occupied by Union troops during the war. The Stanton family lived there until 1894 when the building became the Stanton College for Young Ladies.  The Pilgrimage Garden Club purchased the home in 1938 and restored it to its former splendor using many of the original furnishings belonging to the Stanton family.  If opulence ever needed a picture to define it, the inside of this mansion would do it. (No pictures of the inside were allowed, so you’ll have to take our word for it!)

 

Stanton Hall

Auburn – Completed in 1812, the Auburn home was “designed to be the most magnificent building in the territory” and was built for Lyman Harding, the first Attorney General of Mississippi.  After his death in 1820, the home was purchased by Stephen Duncan, a physician and wealthy planter, and his wife, Catherine and remained in the Duncan family until 1911 when the heirs donated the home and 210 acres adjacent to it, now a park, to the city of Natchez.  Unfortunately, the original contents of the house were sold at public auction with few being returned and the home is furnished with donated period pieces.  If we haven’t conveyed it yet, we were duly impressed by the house but by far, the most striking thing about the mansion is the free-standing spiral stairway that rises between the ground and second floor completely unsupported.

 

Auburn Mansion

 

Rosalie –  With sweeping views and located on the Mississippi River Bluff near French build Fort Rosalie (1716), the mansion was built between 1820 and 1823 for the original owners, Peter and Eliza Little.  The home was purchased in 1857 by Andrew Wilson and his wife, also named Eliza, and was occupied by the family and their descendants until the home and the original furnishings were sold to the Mississippi State Society, Daughters of the American Revolution who maintain the home and give the tours.  Occupied by the Union Army in 1863, General Walter Gresham protected the house and its contents and returned it to the family after the Civil War. (Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the home.)

 

 

Longwood – If we had to vote for our favorite mansion, Longwood would win hands-down and it wasn’t even completed.  Still the largest octagonal house in the US and known as “Nutt’s Folly,” its original owners were Dr. Haller Nutt and his wife Julia, members of Natchez’s planter elite. The couple hired a Philadelphia architect to design an “Oriental villa,” complete with a bright red, Byzantine onion-shaped dome. Construction of the eight-sided, six-story, 10,000 square-foot mansion which had original plans for a total of thirty-two rooms and twenty-six fireplaces, began in 1860 but was halted in 1861. The exterior is mostly finished but only nine rooms on the ground floor were completed when construction workers literally dropped their tools, collected their pay and abandoned their work at the onset of the Civil War.  The Nutt family moved their fine furniture inside the finished rooms, living there throughout the war and into the 20th Century with a total of three generations of the family living in the never finished home.  The upper five stories remain just as they were when the construction ceased, making the home a great analogy of the South’s rise and fall.  The Nutt’s grandchildren owned Longwood until 1968 and the property was deeded to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez in 1970 who maintain the property and open its doors for tours of the historic house museum. (This time we were allowed to take photos of the unfinished part.)

 

Longwood Mansion

 

And here was our conundrum.  Should we write about how beautiful we found this pretty town filled with antebellum homes and selling a romantic story of Old South nostalgia?  These fine and stately homes are indeed works of art: designed by gifted architects, built of the finest materials, containing the work of talented craftsmen and filled with the finest furnishings. The homes of slave owners, many passed down to their descendants, offer a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy southern aristocrats and are treasures for sure but their beauty is tainted by their history and only tell one side of the story.  And the other side? Generations of enslaved blacks who did the work that made the fortunes that built the houses.  Generations of people bought and sold throughout the South, who did their owners bidding, cared for other peoples’ needs and wants, raised children belonging to someone else, cooked and cleaned and planted the crops for their owners.

Somewhere over the decades following the tragedy of the Civil War that left 620,000 dead, “The Lost Cause” has evolved for some into a State’s Rights issue where slavery has been romanticized as a benevolent institution and the patriarchal society of the Confederacy as a grand, genteel civilization.  And unlike the Antebellum homes that offer a glimpse into the lives of the townspeople of Natchez and the wealthy Southern aristocrats who owned slaves before the war, most of the approximately 700 Confederate monuments standing in public spaces today were erected well after the Civil War.  They’re monuments celebrating slavery, secession and white supremacy and were erected as a direct corollary to the rise of Jim Crow laws and the violence and oppression of African-Americans.  And, despite what # 45 says, there’s nothing in those monuments that represents the USA’s rich heritage of diverse cultures, races and religions.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

 

64 comments

  • So well researched and written, as are all your posts Anita. We have yet to explore some of the southern states, which I sorely want to do, and yet there is a piece of me that struggles with how I will react to what I will surely see as a different twist on our sordid history. This was the perfect post, given what has recently transpired in Charlottesville. Thank your for taking the time to write this.

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    • Thanks LuAnn for your very kind words. We’ve truly enjoyed our travels throughout the southern states and hope to take other road trips in the future to learn more about its history, geography and culture. However, the history of slavery is so interwoven into the South’s history that the only way its story can be learned is to examine all its facets. And you’re right, much of it is tragic and sordid. Last year, we might have felt hopeful about the direction the US was going in atoning for this part of our history but now … Sadly, we have a long, long way to go before we can ever hope for a resolution.

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      • I couldn’t agree with you more Anita. I remember years ago, when Terry and I moved to Atlanta for jobs, just one county over the KKK was still marching. I was appalled and obviously very naive at that time about what was going on in this country. I still believe there could come a day when we say enough and move beyond our borders.

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        • It’s funny you should mention Forsyth County as Richard’s sister (who so generously allows our car to live at her house) recently moved to Cumming, Georgia. She told us that up until the 80’s, there was an active prohibition against allowing African-Americans to move into the city of Cumming which was absolutely astounding to us, too. NPR’s Fresh Aire did a terrific interview with the author of the book, “Blood at the Root,” which talks about Forsyth County’s segregation that continued well into the 1980’s and the KKK. I still find in utterly unbelievable that, with the current administration’s tacit approval, many forms of discrimination are going mainstream and there’s a very real danger of this behavior becoming normalized, once again.

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          • Thanks for the tip “Blood at the Root”, as it sounds like something I should read. I still fear for where we are heading in this country. I don’t see how I could continue to live in a country where so many forms of discrimination could become normalized.

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            • I’d always hoped to be one of those expats who could remain proud of their country and continue to embrace it with all it’s foibles and mistakes but what’s happened in the last year has really challenged my perception of what the US represents to me and to others in the country and abroad. The current administration’s agenda is callously and willfully destroying the hopes and lives of thousands of its citizens and I can well understand your questioning whether to leave or stay. Our reasons for leaving the country in 2012 were entirely different but our reasons for not returning for a visit are almost entirely due to the toxic atmosphere existing now. Anita

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              • I completely understand your reluctance to visit the US right now Anita. Terry and I have been discussing where to go this next year and it is looking more like Spain and Portugal are the front runners. We are heading down to Denver for a family gathering today, then on to Ohio (land of right-wing radicals), to visit Terry’s mother, who sadly falls into that category. We initiated a ban on speaking of anything remotely resembling politics several years ago. After that we will have more time to explore travel plans for next year. We usually have these decisions made before now so we feel a bit like we are doing some scrambling. I will keep you posted if we indeed decide to head your direction. It would be lovely to meet up!

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  • Fascinating history and stunning photos. It looks as if the current administration would like to take us back to those days and consider all people who are “non-white” slaves to them. These are sad times. You are fortunate to have Portugal as a haven.

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    • There are sad times Patricia and it’s appalling to see our most vulnerable citizens attacked relentlessly by people whose wealth and privilege are unimaginable. We do feel very lucky to be in Portugal, especially because we can filter some of our news by choosing not to watch TV, but we’re news junkies who spend a lot of time each day reading reputable online sources and feeling truly frightened for our democracy. And, even though we’re far away, we still are experiencing much of the angst that’s affecting many in the US. All we can do is hope and take heart in knowing that so many are active in the groundswell of resistance against the assault.

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  • Beautiful and thoughful post that takes us back to a very sad time in world history. Brazil, shamefully was the last country to abolish slavery. These mansions are beautiful, it’s walls have certainly witnessed many horrible events. I can see why the confederate monuments in particular shoild be removed from places of pride and instead be stored in some sort of museum of shame. We should not hide or forget about the painful history but ensure it is told in a truthful and sensitive way.

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  • Carolina Colborn

    We have visited many Antebellum homes during our road trips through the southeast and visited many monuments to Confederate soldiers and leaders. And we have seen many examples of how the slaves lived during those times and the many memorials celebrating their sacrifice. They all comprise the many sides of the South’s storied past. That’s it, there are many sides and each one played its part and completed the whole. I am just glad that we are afforded the chance to relive that particular period in history.

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    • We thank the travel Gods often about our good fortunes in getting a chance to visit so many of the historic homes, government buildings, civil war battlefields and monuments that educate us about our history and help us understand some of past’s most momentous events. And you’re right, Carol, it’s important to learn about the many sides of the South’s past and more and more museums, national monuments, battlefields and home tours are including stories from other perspectives to show that the challenges the Southern states are confronting won’t ever be something with simple solutions. For us, it’s a matter of questioning our own attitudes and discarding biases we’ve learned and absorbed over the years. And it’s important for us to see, and think about things we once accepted as normal (a confederate flag flying over a state capital, monuments to confederate heroes like Nathan Bedford Forrest who founded the KKK) as actual symbols that offend and marginalize many people in our country.

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  • Bravo! A powerful reminder that under all the bling bling lies a dirty past. I am encouraged by your fortitude, your strength, and your honesty in writing about this subject that most would rather sweep under the antique rug adorning the antebellum homes. Thank you for this post!

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    • Thank you Debbie, for your enthusiastic support. It’s interesting to see how, over the past few years, the national conversation has shifted from the “No big deal” to a growing awareness of how flying the Confederate flag over government buildings and paying homage to monuments to the Confederate heroes only perpetuates the normalization of racism and bigotry. Speaking of which, today I read that the Washington National Cathedral is removing the stained glass windows that honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Even with the bigoted Jeff Sessions as the US Attorney General, progress is occurring, ever so slowly.

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  • I understand your ambivalence and quandary in deciding how to write about a town like Natchez. In my visits to the Old South, I have found that many places now take pains to explain the dark side of the history of beautiful antebellum homes and plantations. Even in my home town of Philadelphia, at the site of George Washington’s home there, the story of the slaves who lived there with him is also told. History is as “messy” and complicated as human beings are.

    I wonder why so many of the museum homes don’t allow interior photos.

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    • Good question Suzanne, about the museum homes that don’t allow interior photos. Many times, the craftsmanship or furnishings are totally unique and a picture would help describe what makes some of the homes so amazing. I think it’s important, as you say, to present both sides of the history of some of America’s beautiful buildings and the people who built them. Our perspective changes when we learn some of the real story behind many of the magnificent buildings, houses and cities in the US that were built by slave labor. Museums and private tours that educate people about the ‘dark side,’ acknowledge our country’s dishonorable past as well as the contributions of African-Americans in our history.

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  • A timely reminder that we romanticise history at our peril. The story is often complex – the Romans, for instance, were slave owners but also did much to lay down the foundations of western civilisation. But, as you say, it is hard to justify the existence of statues and monuments that are only there to commemmorate slavery and oppression.

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    • You bring up some good points, Karen as we are often bowled over by the European artifacts from the Roman Empire and other cultures which employed slaves to build these impressive buildings, fortresses, castles and bridges that are all that’s left of some very mighty civilizations. In fact, Lagos, Portugal where we live now, was the first European slave market for Black African slaves who were brought to Lagos from West Africa in 1444. There’s lots to keep in mind when viewing some of history’s ruins and existing architectural treasures, isn’t there?

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  • Your post is such a powerful reminder that underneath the glamour of most historic powerhouses — whether they are antebellum mansions or emperor’s tombs — are the lost lives of men and women whose forced labor went into creating that glitz and “romance.”

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    • We’re history nerds who love learning about cathedrals, mosques, castles and fine houses from around the world and yes, many were built by slaves or enemies from vanquished tribes, civilizations and countries. Definitely an important thing to keep in mind when we’re admiring the beauty, the creativity, the skilled craftsmanship and artistry that are displayed in these magnificent buildings.

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  • “And, despite what # 45 says, there’s nothing in those monuments that represent the USA’s rich heritage of diverse cultures, races, and religions.”

    Well said!

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    • Glad you two agree, John and Susan. It’s an eye-opener to learn about how the majority of the Confederate Statues were erected well after the Civil War as symbols of the Southern Confederacy when bigotry, segregation and lynching were tolerated. A civilized society can’t condone monuments in government spaces and public areas that were meant to intimidate a portion of its people.

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  • This is a very thoughtful post and I can appreciate your dilemma re writing about these houses. I love seeing old beautiful buildings like these, but the history associated with them (in the South and elsewhere) often has an ugly side and it is good for us to be reminded of all of it.

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    • We love the old houses, too and the Antebellum houses of Natchez as well as the town itself were beautiful. We just had a hard time writing a post celebrating their beauty and the romanticizing of the Southern war after we visited the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham. We love history but it’s obvious that, even though the war’s been over for 150 years, there are still raw wounds and the outcome is still a wrong that needs to be righted for some. As you say Donna, many sides to the story!

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  • Great Preamble !! Hard to believe you guys are still going strong and stronger. Ed

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  • Thanks for the insightful post and the fab photos, Anita. I recall hearing the name Natchez in a Waylon Jennings song, but otherwise has never heard anything about it. So I appreciate the share.

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  • You write so well! Your post was incredibly timely and eye opening. As I am Canadian, I am not overly familiar with American history before the 20th century. I had no idea over 620,000 died in the Civil War and that 700 Confederate monuments were erected after the war.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Jan and here’s where we have to confess that we’re fairly ignorant about Canadian history and thank you for knowing more about our country’s history than we know about yours. We’re avid news junkies and I couldn’t help but draw some parallels between the South of 150 years ago and recent events with the appalling parade of Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists in Charleston invoking violence and spewing hate-speech. It’s extremely gratifying to tie history to current events and wind a travel tale in there too!

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  • We’ve asked all of the same questions on our travels south. I find the south fascinating on so many levels. There have been moments in our southern travels in which it very much felt as if we were in a different country. But, in all fairness we have said that about other parts of the country as well, such as in the midwest. We’ve driven across the US on 5 separate occasions and every time we’ve made the journey, I thought the same thing; drive across this country and you can’t help but understand why the country is so divided. People forget – or maybe don’t realize – how massive the US is and the vast number of different cultures within the same country is significant. Sadly, the current administration is seemingly driving a wedge into that divide that may prove to be irreversible.

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    • Great point Patti, about the enormity of the US, the influence of multiple immigrant cultures, the contrast of the rural communities versus inner-cities versus manufacturing regions, multiple religions, etc. We spent our last 10 years in the Republic of Texas which was a country all its own. 😁 Not too long ago, America was called the “Melting Pot” with pride and our leaders saw the inscription on the Statue of Liberty as inspiring. We’ve loved our road trips driving across the country on visits back to US, comparing rural towns and big cities and it’s been fascinating to learn more about the Southern states as well. But tragically, DT and his regime seem to be intent of emphasizing all that make us different rather than what we have in common.

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  • Great post, enjoyed reading and love your blunt talk about this asshole who should not be named. I’m up for bets as to how long he lasts as president…
    I will say this however: history is history and most (not much) of human history was built on the backs of others. The pyramids in Egypt, the incredible churches all over Mexico, the Roman artifacts throughout the ex-Roman Empire etc etc. Every nation has ugly history. So what do we do about that today? I don’t think it should be ignored or rejected, but neither should it be romanticized. And each case is different. But in the case of confederate monuments you are perfectly right in saying most were erected well after the Civil War for the sole purpose of keeping African-Americans down. I was having the same conversation the other day with Spanky and you know what we came up with? Stick them all in a park somewhere. People can still go see them but they won’t be daily reminders for everyone to see. The inspiration was Momento Park in Budapest where all the monuments from the Soviet Communist period are kept. Interesting monuments, but from a time that the people are happy to have moved on from…they don’t need those reminders.

    Funny sometimes how we have a subject in the back of our minds and can’t quite complete it…and then something happens to bring it all in context. Great post.

    Frank (bbqboy)

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    • Thanks Frank! Your idea for a Monument Park is a great one so that those people who want to see the ‘historic’ statues can see them. They’d also be okay in Civil War museums but not in front of government buildings that are supposed to be representing the public. Your statement “from a time that people are happy to have moved on from…” may be part of the problem since obviously some of the people protesting the statues removal are still looking back at the days of Dixie and segregation with nostalgia. You’re right that every nation has its ugly history and sadly, part of ‘Making America Great Again’ seems to be taking the US back to the days when white men ruled supreme and everyone else knew their place. We’re also taking bets on how long #45 will last but the real question might be, “What will it take for the GOP to abandon him?” At this point, that’s a scary thought!

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  • Anita and Richard – Love the way you’ve designated him as only a number 😉
    What a timely post, with such a thoughtful link to today’s news. All that opulence reminds me of the unnerving richness in many churches/cathedrals. If you see the beauty, you also have to see the cost and the lost opportunities. Nicely done – Susan

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    • Thank you Susan. I wish I could take credit for the # 45 but the honor goes to someone else. I like the simplicity of delegating him as a place holder but then, it’s hard to get too excited about # 46 either. Travel has been a great teacher and the ongoing education has taught us to look at things from many sides and connect the dots between historical events from around the world as well as try to see how the past and present relate.
      As much as we love visiting the churches and grand Cathedrals of Europe now as well as seeing beautiful homes, I’ll have to keep in mind your words, “If you see the beauty, you also have to see the cost and the lost opportunities.” Well said!

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  • In school, we didn’t learn American history. This was later learned after moving to America. What is happening now is so troubling and l’m glad you wrote this. History should never be forgotten. The small group of people (hopefully) in the country are pretty vocal about their hatred for people of color and different religions etc. They choose to ignore how the U.S came to be. I hope everyday people will continue to speak up till we run them out of town so to speak. It doesn’t help that Mango Mussolini (a term l heard today and like 🙂 ) is at the helm. Afraid we’re in for a lot more hurt before it gets better, which is quite sad.

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    • Snort-laughed at the term “Mango Mussolini” which is also new to us. And oh, how right you are when you talk about those in the US forgetting that we are a nation of immigrants of many races and religions. While the Neo-Nazi and groups of White Supremacists are a more extreme example, we are quite appalled at the everyday people who feel free to chant their hate and ugliness against the Muslims, Mexicans, the LGBTQ community and those in the Black Lives Matter organization protesting against the gunning down of black men, racial profiling and blatant attempts to disenfranchise those whose votes threaten the right’s agenda. It’s shameful and like you said, beyond sad …

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  • Thank you for posting this!

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  • A very thoughtful post. It’s a brutal history, perhaps worse because slavery was involved, but white Caucasian men have spread all over the world from England and Europe, and then taken what they wanted in an arrogant ham-fisted way, with an astonishing sense of entitlement and little care for who they trampled on or used or abused along the way. There’s no excusing it. Or even really explaining it. I think the tide is slowly turning now though. And no doubt those mansions are fine examples of beauty and can at least be appreciated as such though I understand your ambivalence.
    Alison

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    • Oh how I loved your comment Alison! Growing up we both learned the term “Manifest Destiny,” which basically meant that the US was destined to stretch from the East coast to the West Coast and to hell with any Native Americans, Mexicans or any other ‘nobodies’ who stood in the way. And of course, since white men were the only ones with the vote, women and people of color were just basically at their mercy. Since January, if you look at the current administration of # 45’s, you’ll see a disheartening majority of white, old men manning the helm. All with a “sense of entitlement and little care for who they trample on or use or abuse along the way.”

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  • Excellent post! I always had mixed feelings about those stately old homes. It was hard for me to separate the beauty of the structures from the ugliness of their history.

    I’m glad that you pointed out the fact that many of the statues that some want to preserve were erected not as historical monuments but were put up much later to intimidate those less powerful and to glorify the ownership of humans. Put them in museums of shame, if you must, but stop pretending that they somehow mean anything but salutes to white power.

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    • Thanks and we couldn’t agree more with your comments. I’m sure there are many places that could display the statues and explain the controversy surrounding them as well as use the statues to educate people about the mythology of the Confederacy movement. Violence by whites against people of color is a tragic part of our history and statues that celebrate bigotry are offensive icons of racism.

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  • Great post… To me, monuments are public displays and shouldn’t promote hate, while homes are private spaces and no matter how they’re built they can be ‘taken over’ by new owners and perhaps given new life.. Either way, it’s an interesting and complicated issue.

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    • Thanks for your kind words and we’re glad you enjoyed the post. The conversation regarding the Confederate monuments is long overdue (like the Confederate flags over government buildings) and any monument in front of a government building or in a public space should be inclusive rather than support hatred or oppression. Once you learn about the ties to the Jim Crow era and the reasons many of the Confederate monuments were erected, it’s not hard to vote for replacing them with more appropriate art.

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  • We very much appreciate the post.

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  • The whole of the US profited off of slave trade. At one point Rhode Island was responsible for 90% of the voyages bringing captives here. I have visited many beautiful homes throughout the US that were built on the backs of slavery. I did not view them through any kind of filter. I have no romantic notions of what it must have been like to live as a slave or to have been a slave owner. I look at these homes purely as a part of our history.I want to know that history and for future generations to know it as well. Unfortunately, Southern Heritage is being viewed through a narrow scope right now, and quite frankly it feels under attack; understandably, but not acceptable. Yes,there are bigots and haters everywhere, but they do not represent who we are as Americans. The haters feel emboldened because we allow it. Buildings and monuments that have stood for over one hundred years are being viewed as “monuments of hate” for the first time in history. When a very small and ugly segment of our society can control or even make us pause to think about how we feel about a beautiful building, we allow them a victory. Hate is not gaining ground in America, civilized people are focusing on the wrong issues and fueling the divide.

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    • Thank you for your wonderful and cogent comment, Suzanne and you bring up some interesting points. We love visiting old homes, castles, churches and buildings around the world and delving into the history behind them which, a lot of times is ugly, involves brutality, warfare and the exploitation of humans. As far as our ambivalence in how we viewed the magnificent Antebellum homes, we’ve been re-thinking the stories we learned growing up, the gallantry of the Southern soldiers and movies like “Gone with the Wind.” And then contrasting that with books like Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” and even Tony Horwitz’s “Confederates in the Attic.” There have always been ugly segments of racists and White Supremacists in our country but, for the past year plus, they’ve skirted the mainstream and along with the threats from the current administration, have forced us to consider the serious threats to many of our citizens regarding racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, etc. And, maybe I’m more cynical and pessimistic, but I see a greater number of people than I ever thought possible speaking against Muslims, African-Americans, Mexicans, the LGBTQ community, etc. which is certainly divisive. I’m not sure what issues we need to focus on (there are so many!) but I know that, for us, we’re trying to become more cognizant about the importance of learning the history and trying to put it into a context that makes sense to us. So much to think about, Suzanne and hopefully so much to discuss.

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  • Thank you for your thoughtful words.

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  • An intelligent, timely response to the current issue of what and how the past should be remembered.

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  • Bravo! Thank you for posting.

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  • Well done Anita and Richard! You sum up the current conundrum very well. I’m a proponent of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and thus never want us to cover up or forget the past. But most of those rallying around these statues are celebrating the myth of the South, not the reality. You have only to visit the slave shacks and the Southern mansions to see that vision more clearly. In 1860 there were nearly 4 million slaves out of a total Southern population of 9 million, a staggeringly disgraceful number. That Southern “gentility” was founded on the broken backs of those millions. We all should find the truth and celebrate and respect the true heroes and victims of this tragic period of America’s history.

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    • Your statistic of approximately 4 out of 9 people being slaves is sobering. We recently read an essay saying that only about one-quarter of the people living in the South before the Civil War owned slaves but, for those who didn’t, the majority aspired to become slave owners or defended the institution of slavery. And many gained a sense of superiority simply for being white – they may have been poor, by God, but at least they weren’t slaves. Except for the hard-core Neo-Nazis and other white Supremacists of today, I like to hope that many who romanticize the southern myths would change their minds once they were educated with the reality of the other, non-white side and that the icons of the Southern Confederacy are not historic statuary but rather, symbols of oppression and bigotry.

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  • Thanks for sharing a most interesting facet to the recent disgrace in Charlottesville, which… I feel compelled to add, the white-supremacist and neo-nazi display of hatred was sickening enough, but – the ENDORSEMENT by #45 of such racism… suffice,words fail. ;(

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    • For a few days Dyanne, we actually dared to hope that this might be a turning point and that DT could not possibly survive the backlash for his tepid response to the violence perpetrated by white supremacy groups and failure to condemn it unequivocally. The march by the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups was appalling enough but the response from #45 was even more so. You’re right – words fail …

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  • MEBE in Medellin

    Another great post, and very timely. Your ambivalence about those old houses and the grounds they occupy is understandable. After all, the biggest and most famous ‘mansion’ in the country, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was built by slaves, and America’s connection to its shameful past has never, in my opinion, been adequately addressed. So thanks for shining yet more light on it. The only way we’ll ever sort it out is to look at it squarely, and finally see, like the spiral staircase pictured at Auburn Mansion, those old myths and prejudices are completely unsupported, and unsupportable. Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mariah and By and you’re right to point out the most famous mansion, the White House, was also built by slaves. In fact, Michelle Obama movingly referred to that in her speech to the DNC last summer. It’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of these homes but we thought it was important to remind ourselves what the non-white history of these places was as well. Our nation’s past is painful and there’s no way to whitewash slavery and not see it as anything but evil. And we loved your analogy of the Confederate mythology to the Auburn spiral staircase – the romantic myth of a “Gone with the Wind” south is completely unsupported!

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