On Oct. 13, 1910, over 8,000 people gathered around the courthouse in downtown Hattiesburg to witness the unveiling of the city’s new Confederate monument. The courthouse, built just a few years earlier, was a tangible marker of Hattiesburg’s rapid growth. In 1907, Forrest County had been carved out of the western edge of Perry County, with Hattiesburg to serve as the new county seat. Scarcely 30 years after its founding Hattiesburg was fast becoming a regional capital.
1910 was a major year for Hattiesburg. Not only did the Southern Railway Company open its downtown depot, but earlier that spring, the state legislature had authorized the creation of the Mississippi Normal College – now USM – to train a new generation of white teachers and had selected Hattiesburg as its site. Clearly the Hub City’s fortunes were bright – and yet in the context of the post-Reconstruction South, those fortunes could not be equally shared among its citizens. Indeed, they were never meant to be.
In 1910, Black residents comprised about 37 percent of Forrest County’s population. Yet they had no say in politics or governance because they were not allowed to vote. Hattiesburg’s Confederate monument was erected with their tax dollars, but not their consent. Jim Crow had already hardened, rendering them second-class citizens in a society designed to foster and maintain white supremacy.
Twenty years earlier, the Mississippi state legislature had passed a constitution that explicitly sought to take away Black voting rights. African Americans comprised a majority of the state population, and their vote, theoretically protected by the 15th Amendment, promised a pathway to full citizenship. But the 1890 Constitutional Convention met to end that possibility.
As convention president S.S. Calhoon openly explained, “We came here to exclude the negro.” The end result was the establishment of literacy tests, poll taxes and an “understanding clause” that gave supreme power to white registrars to deny Black voter applicants. Hattiesburg later became famous for the registrars Luther Cox, who asked Black applicants “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”, and Theron Lynd, who allowed illiterate whites to pass the literacy test by signing an “X” next to their name.
Confederate hagiography followed Black disfranchisement. The 1894 state flag with its Confederate battle emblem was one of many measures designed to remind Mississippians of who was in charge. By the early 1900s, whites who had consolidated power were determined to reassert the old racial hierarchy. Having lost the war decades earlier, these lawmakers – many of them Confederate veterans – decided to fight it anew at the state and county level instead. It was to the Confederacy that they turned.
Confederate monument building – across the South and across Mississippi – peaked in the early years of Jim Crow. More monuments were built between 1900 and 1920 than any other period in American history, with the years 1909-1910 the single most active years of all. Hattiesburg’s monument was built at the top of this spike, as pro-Confederate organizations across the South sought not only to honor the dead but also to honor the cause for which they fought.
In Hattiesburg, these efforts were led by members of the local branches of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Founded in the 1890s, the UDC and SCV promoted the idea of the Lost Cause: the notion that the Civil War was a just war, and that the presumed nobility and cultural superiority of the antebellum years was the South’s “true” heritage, a heritage that must be reclaimed at all costs.
While the Ku Klux Klan may have been the most overtly violent organization, the threads of white supremacy cannot be untangled from any of these groups’ aims. Decades after the war had ended, UDC members – 80,000 strong by 1912 – undertook a national campaign to promote their Cause, holding rallies, staging benefits for Civil War veterans, and replacing school textbooks with approved volumes foregrounding Confederate narratives. At Hattiesburg High School, UDC educators even required students to perform a play in which the South won the Civil War, with white students in blackface rejoicing at the news. They also constantly denied the centrality of slavery to the Civil War. But Mississippi’s own Ordinance of Secession said this: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”
Read the whole thing at http://bit.ly/pbnm2a. If that’s not revisionist history, we don’t know what is.
The Hattiesburg UDC, founded in 1900, was named after Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, the slave-trader, Civil War general, and first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest had no connection to Hattiesburg. In fact, he died before the city was even founded. But his legacy, rooted in anti-Black violence, inspired them to name the organization for him.
The early Hattiesburg women who organized the Confederate monument came from elite slave-owning families, even as they denied the centrality of slavery to their Lost Case. Mrs. Margaret Holmes was the president of the local chapter when the monument was erected. Her grandfather once owned 52 people near Brookhaven. It’s not appropriate to criticize her for who her grandfather owned. But it’s also not exactly true for her to suggest that slavery had nothing to do with the reasons her grandfather joined the Confederacy. Another guest at the dedication was a Mrs. S.E.F. Rose, historian of the UDC, who once wrote, in defense of the Ku Klux Klan, “No unbiased student of history can fail to admit that the conditions of the times called for organized effort, to take offices out of incompetent and mischievous hands, to protect the women of the South from brutal assault, and to maintain the supremacy of the white race.”
Though we don’t know which individual first approached the County, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 in February of 1910 to allocate $3,600 to assist in the creation of a monument on the courthouse grounds. In their May meeting, they awarded the bid to the Dixie Marble Works (the low bidder at $3,500). It is revealing, if unsurprising, that there is no mention of any process whereby citizens made or could make public comment or objection.
The monument itself, like so many similar structures across the South, invites onlookers to worship a Lost Cause, rather than offer a somber reflection of men who gave their lives. It features granite soldiers and crossed rifles and sabers, and underneath the final 13-starred flag of the Confederacy (not the more iconic “Stainless Banner”), the monument declares in stone that it is “erected to the honor and memory of those who wore the gray.”
The monument reaches three stories into the air, forcing passersby to look up to the figure of a common soldier. It’s not placed at or below eye-level, like memorials in cemeteries or other public spaces like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
It’s a placement of honor, a design meant to suggest aspirations and values. Nor did anyone at the time call it a memorial. And unlike a cemetery or other somber places of a reflection, few people ever went there to lay flowers or to pray.
The dedication remarks, which The Pine Belt News is here reprinting in full, are telling.
That day, Oct. 13, 1910, Stokes Robertson – who served as the first representative to the Mississippi legislature from Forrest County – described the monument to the 8,000 assembled as a “matchless gift.”
“Be it known,” he continued, that “Forrest [County], a mere baby in the state’s great sisterhood of counties, has started out right.”
In unveiling this monument, Forrest County was “thereby becoming one of the leaders in the list of counties who are preparing properly and suitably to perpetuate the memory of the grandest army that ever fought a foe.” Noting the valor of the troops at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and other battles, Robertson suggested that the “real value” of the monument “consists in the telling of a story of bravery and fortitude which will be without parallel while the world stands.”
Rhetoric is rhetoric, some superlatives are to be expected, and we concede that Robertson was speaking to those who had actually fought on those battlefields.
There is no doubt that Robertson would praise their courage, nor do we malign it here – but see how the rhetoric turns near the end of his speech, when he notes that, after the UDC gave the monument to the county, the county had asked the UDC to maintain it in turn. The UDC, Robertson said, would not and could not have done so “if it did not have on its face the glorious stars and bars, the emblem of all the just causes for which our fathers fought and our mothers suffered.”
“All the just causes,” Robertson declares. In other words, the Lost Cause. The cause that sought not merely to re-establish an old order, but an order that – by its own admission – was tied directly to the preservation of human bondage.
What does all this mean?
A better question is, what did this mean at the time?
A better question still is, what did it mean to those for whom this monument was not intended – namely, Black citizens, including former slaves and sharecroppers whose citizenship had been cruelly undermined by the 1890 Mississippi Constitution?
What it meant was simple: that this history, this courthouse, was intentionally exclusionary. It was meant for a specific group of people, those who erected the monument and those who supported it.
Remember that from 1890 on state laws represented and enforced by the Forrest County Courthouse had once again divided Mississippi society into two types of citizens – first-class citizens and second-class citizens, those who could participate in civil society and those who could not – and that those laws were here to stay. In 1910, the history that the Confederate monument referenced was under no circumstances the history of all citizens, or for all citizens – to those supporters, only certain histories were worth recording, histories that fit a specific narrative.
Context is everything. That the Civil War would take place twenty years before the city of Hattiesburg was even founded and over 50 years before this monument would be placed shows the dominance that the Lost Cause narrative held over the social, economic, and political elite of the era.
That October day, the Hattiesburg Daily Progress called the gathering of Confederate veterans downtown to dedicate the monument “the greatest event in Hattiesburg’s history.”
But in 1910, the monument was not a memorial – it was a reminder of who was once again in power.
To Hattiesburg’s white citizens sympathetic to the cause, it was a celebration. And to Hattiesburg’s Black citizens, it was more than that: it was a warning and a reminder of a racial hierarchy that would survive for half a century.
Dr. Benjamin Morris is the author of “Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City” (The History Press, 2014). Professor William Sturkey is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of “Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White” (Harvard University Press, 2019). This column is Part II of an ongoing monthly series. Read Part I: http://bit.ly/pbnm1.
The Dedication Speech for the Confederate Monument
One of the most timely and eloquent addresses of the unveiling ceremonies Wednesday was that of Hon. Stokes. V. Robertson, in accepting the monument in behalf of the board of supervisors of Forrest county. Mr. Robertson had already won his spurs in the forensic arena, but he added new laurels Wednesday by his masterly address. He spoke as follows:
“There is one inscription on that monument for the entire truthfulness of which I, personally, can vouch. You will find it on the Western face of the shaft, and it is in these words: ‘Through the Devotion and untiring efforts of the Hattiesburg Chapter No. 422 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, this monument is erected to the honor and memory of those who wore the gray.’
The Forrest county board of supervisors, whose hearts are in the right place, for two of them are Confederate Veterans, and the other three are sons of veterans, hav[e] asked me to accept for them the matchless gift which the Daughters of the Confederacy have this day presented to the county.
They have told me to tell the Daughters that no word of mine or theirs can speak the gratitude which wells up in their hearts as they receive this magnificent memorial; and that, while this feeling of gratitude fills their hearts individually, it comes to them reinforced and a thousand times multiplied and intensified by the same feeling from the hearts of the constituencies which they represent. For be it known: Forrest county, a mere baby in the state’s great sisterhood of counties, has started out right. In the outset it was named for the South’s intrepid cavalry leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest; and today before its third anniversary it is entertaining a reunion of Confederate Veterans of the state and is unveiling this monument, thereby becoming one of the leaders in the list of counties who are preparing properly and suitably to perpetuate the memory of the grandest army that ever fought a foe.
We have seen other monuments, many larger, more expensive and pretentious than this one; but we have never yet seen one so perfect in its symmetry, so simple in its beauty, so beautiful in its simplicity as the one which you present. Yet the shaft stands white and cold and comparatively valueless in itself. Its real value consists in the telling of a story of bravery and fortitude which will be without parallel while the world stands. Its inscriptions, figures and emblems are peculiarly appropriate. Graven there in letters to be read by children yet unborn, are the words: ‘To the men and women of the Confederacy. When their country called they held back nothing. They cheerfully gave their property and their lives.’
What a splendid field of history those words open to us. Had there been room, these words would have been followed by the stories of Bull Run, of Spotsylvania, of Chickamauga, Gettysburg, of Corinth, of Vicksburg and a thousand smaller battles which our historians pass with a mere sentence or a clause, but whose real story would “harrow up thy soul, freeze thy blood, make thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine.”
Some asked a beloved member of our local camp of Veterans: “Who is the man on top of the monument?” Tears filled the veteran’s eyes and ran down his weather-beaten face, but there was a trace of the bugle’s tones in his voice as he said: “That, sir, is two hundred and fifty thousand of the bravest men the world ever knew.” That is the way we look at it. Oh no, we can never see a mere figure there. That which seems but a figure is, through our tears, magnified into the vast pulsing army of Southern men, whose ammunition and provisions gave out just before they finished whipping Grant!
In conclusion, the Forrest county board of supervisors have told me to accept the monument, but to give it back to the Daughters of the Confederacy to care for and keep it. The board of supervisors do not feel equal to the task of properly caring for and keeping the monument as it should be cared for and kept. They promise their help, but they ask that the Daughters direct them in the task. They have told me further to say that even though the Daughters promise to care for and keep the monument, yet they would not, could not, accept it if it did not have on its face the glorious stars and bars, the emblem of all the just causes for which our fathers fought and our mothers suffered. But it is there. See the sculptor’s skillful efforts to preserve its warm, graceful folds in cold gray stone. You have seen yonder its splendid colors on your children’s forms depicted. You have heard its praises sung from fresh young throats. Veterans of a just cause lost, honor your flag while you live, as I know you will. You gave your best years defending it, God knows you did, and when you go over the river to rest under the shade of the trees, and your eyes are opened on the other side you will see that:
“In the archives of our Maker,
In the city of the Souls,
Where the flags of glorious nations
Flutter from their golden poles,
High above the other banners,
Brighter far than all the rest
Is the flag of Lee and Jackson
In immortal glory drest.”
This article was originally published in The Hattiesburg News on Oct. 13, 1910, with the headline: “8000 Visitors Attend Prosperity Celebration; Confederate Veterans Reunion Adjourned at Noon” and subheads: “Thousands Attend Great Celebration, Masterly Address of Mr. Robertson, Accept Confederate Monument in Behalf of Board of Supervisors of Forrest County.” Dr. Benjamin Morris prepared the transcript. The physical issue is housed in Special Collections at McCain Library, the University of Southern Mississippi.