How The United Daughters of the Confederacy Literally Changed History
These Southern Belles single-handedly erected Confederate monuments and taught southern children that slavery was benevolent
The heated debate concerning the preservation of Confederate monuments continues to rage across the country, with some protestors taking matters into their own hands by either defacing the statues or tearing them down altogether. President Trump has vowed to sign an executive order to protect the statues, threatening that offenders would be looking at “long-term jail sentences.” Those in favor of their preservation say they do so in an effort to “help people understand an important part of America’s history.”
This is the most common argument I’ve heard surrounding the monuments; one that often extends to the discussion of the relevance of the Confederate flag. I live in Georgia where these flags are commonplace and at least 174 public spaces house statues to commemorate the Confederacy. Since those who defend their presence claim to do so for the preservation of history, I think it’s important to discuss how the monuments came to be in the first place.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was established in 1894 by Anna Davenport Raines of Savannah, Georgia, and Caroline Meriweather Goodlett of Nashville, Tennessee. The organization consisted of well-to-do White women who were direct descendants of Confederate soldiers that fought in the Civil War (1861–1865). Their main objective was to preserve the integrity of the soldiers as benevolent heroes and to ensure that the voice of the South was equally represented and documented in history.
Although the Confederate army is considered by some as traitors to the Union who fought in the Civil War only to preserve the right to own slaves, the UDC maintained (and still does so today) that the war was only fought to honor state’s rights and secession. They also document their dedication to marking the graves of Confederate soldiers, providing assistance to the families of their fallen war heroes, erecting monuments in honor of those who served, and most importantly, to ensure that future generations of Confederate descendants were properly educated about their “true” history.
The UDC was particularly interested in working with children as they felt this was the most effective way to ensure their version of southern history would withstand the test of time. The cornerstone of their beliefs were based on the theory of “the lost cause”, which attempted to portray the Confederacy’s loss of the Civil War as “factors out of their control” because they were out-numbered. They also believed the war was fought for noble causes which had nothing to do with slavery. It was their hope to portray slavery as a benevolent institution that Black people not only enjoyed but also welcomed slave masters to control and own them along with their future lineages.
One of the most influential women of the UDC was Mildred Rutherford. Mildred was an educator who served as a historian and honorary president for the organization in the early 1900’s. She was well-known for the lectures she gave in schools defending the South as she felt the North was providing a slanted version of history. Often punctuating her speeches by dressing in clothing from the 18th century to drive her message home, Mildred was a highly sought-after speaker at learning institutions around the country.
In addition to speeches, she wrote textbooks that further portrayed the South as a gentle friend to the slaves, arguing they were treated with respect by slaveowners. As a companion to Mildred’s textbooks for children, Laura Martin Rose, the in-house historian for the Mississippi UDC chapter, published a pamphlet entitled The Ku Klux Klan or Invisible Empire which glorified the KKK for perpetuating domestic terror against Black people in the post Civil War years. The following can be found on the book’s dedication page:
“This book is dedicated by the author to the Youth of the Southland, hoping that a perusal of its pages will inspire them with respect and admiration for the Confederate soldiers, who were the real Ku Klux, and whose deeds of courage and valor have never been surpassed, and rarely equaled, in the annals of history.”
Mildred and Laura, along with the other members of the UDC, dedicated a large part of their work to ensuring the commission of monuments throughout the country to keep the legacy of the Confederacy alive. There are chapters of the UDC still active today, although they have attempted to remove themselves from pro-slavery beliefs, insisting their main objective is just to preserve their honorable history.
I have many issues with this organization, but let me just speak briefly about a few of them.
First, the indoctrination of White supremacy to shape the minds of innocent children is exactly the reason this country’s race relations are in the disastrous condition they are today. The only way to truly combat racism for good is to begin by teaching each new generation the importance of equality for all people. The UDC knew this, which is why their main focus was on “teaching” the children what they wanted them to believe to guarantee they would grow up and enforce these racist ideals against my ancestors.
Second, the Civil War’s underlying cause was to defend the Confederate’s right to slave ownership.
Slave labor was FREE for every state and without the use of those bodies, or the ability to breed more slaves to continue the oppression for future generations, they would actually have to do something for themselves. And clearly, that was not an option. So instead of owning up to the fact that the idea of Black people desiring to be owned by other human beings was the most ludicrous and illogical notion known to man, they instead chose to simply teach their children lies to uphold their dream of supremacy.
Gee, these are REALLY the kind of people I’d like to see as statues in parks when I take my children to get some fresh air and play.
Let’s be VERY clear about slavery and break this down so that it can forever be broken:
Slavery was NOT a choice. Slavery was NOT something my ancestors desired. Slavery was NOT benevolent. Slavery was NOT anything to be passed down through generations. Slavery was NOT designed to enhance the lives of Black people. Slavery was NOT something Black people wanted to experience again after the reconstruction period. Slavery was NOT the move for ANYONE.
Picture this: You are snatched from your home either with your parents or alone, by a terrifying group of men who do not speak your language. You are placed at the bottom of a ship to lie side by side with thousands of strangers that you are shackled to, headed to an unknown destination.
Everything that was familiar to you (your NAME, your LANGUAGE, your CULTURE, your FAMILY, your HOME, your BELONGINGS) has been stripped from you with one mighty crack of the whip of your new slave master.
You remain on the bottom of this boat to lie in urine, feces, menses, vomit, only to be taken out briefly every couple of days and force-fed “food” to make sure you survive the journey or else you are no use to the slave masters.
No matter how vile the sustenance, you must eat everything given to you or you run the risk of being shot or thrown overboard with the bodies of those who didn’t make it. And if you are a woman, you not only have to fear beatings within an inch of your life but also being brutally raped whenever the slave master needed to feed his carnal desires.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no, because now you’ve arrived in a strange land after all the trauma of the slave ship, only to be hosed down, placed on auction blocks, and sold to the highest bidder. And even if you were able to stay near your family during the journey, there is no guarantee that you would all be sold to the same plantation.
You watch as children and babies are ripped from the safety of their mother’s arms and thrust into the hands of the White slave masters who only see them as free labor and future breeders for the next generation of slaves.
After you are sold, you arrive on the plantation that has a big, beautiful home, but that’s not for you. You will live in a shack out back with no indoor plumbing and are now the property of your slave master. You can no longer make any decisions for yourself, you cannot go where you want to go, spend time with the people you love, learn to read, write, or communicate effectively or even plan a future for yourself.
The culture, name, and history that gave you an identity and a sense of self-worth is literally beaten out of you with a whip that tears your skin to shreds if you even attempt to reminisce about the family that you miss so desperately.
You are afraid, alone, confused, and in excruciating pain, and when you cry out, you are met with the hard hand of the slave master across your face, or worse. This is your new life, and you have absolutely no input about your own future without risking a beating, a violent sexual attack, or death.
Can you even begin to IMAGINE a fate such as this?
This is what our African ancestors endured as slaves. The trauma embedded in their DNA was passed down generations, and now rests with us. We carry this every day which makes the racism we face burns like salt in a wound, much like when it was deliberately poured in the open wounds on the backs of our ancestors.
So no, I don’t see any value in the history of these Confederate statues. No, I don’t want my children to see them so that we can avoid yet another generation of trauma. No, I don’t think taking them down erases history, but what the UDC did to my people DOES.
When slabs of concrete can elicit enough passion to create executive orders to ensure their protection, but the fight to protect Black HUMAN lives continues to fall on deaf ears, this country that claims to be the “land of the free” should be screaming FOUL.
And the fact that the majority remains radio silent means the UDC, avid supporters of the KKK, was one of the most successful organizations in America.