"Fear the Greeks, Though Bearing Gifts"

Efforts to Build a National "Mammy" Monument in D.C.

Between the late nineteenth century and the 1930s, Southern legislators and chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) initiated a number of efforts to erect monuments to Black “mammies” and other enslaved persons who had stayed loyal to their white masters during the civil war. However, their efforts to erect a national “mammy” monument in 1923 ultimately failed.

In January 1923, Mississippi Senator John Sharp Williams introduced a bill to erect a monument in D.C. memorializing the “Faithful Colored Mammies of the South.”[1] A news report from the Black newspaper New Journal and Guide covering the campaign noted the prominent involvement of the UDC.[2] The planned location for the monument was on Massachusetts Avenue (where a statue of an Eastern European nationalist leader has stood since 2002).[3]

Several sculptors submitted designs to the UDC in hopes of securing a commission. One proposed model showed a Black woman wearing stereotypical domestic garb of handkerchief and apron, standing atop a podium with the engraved word “Mammy.” She held a white baby in her arms while two more white children pulled at her apron. On a set of steps leading up to the podium, a child reached for Mammy while a man appeared to comfort him.[4]

The proposed legislation sent the Black community into an uproar. An editorial in The New York Age described receiving a flood of letters regarding the monument, mostly in protest of the proposal. Readers insisted that the monument was both degrading and hypocritical. One letter pointedly asked, “What honor is it to erect a monument to the ‘Black Mammy’ and at the same time burn her grandsons at the stake?”[5] This theme—highlighting the hypocrisy of the government supposedly honoring Black life while continuing to allow rampant lynching—was repeated throughout the letters.

In another editorial letter published in The New York Age, Mattie Fagan, a Black woman, declared:

Until the lynchings, burnings at the stake, segregations, disenfranchisements, peonage…and all of the other insults, indignity, injustices and outrages heaped upon us and upon our soldiers, has been done away with…I protest against the erection of any such monument anywhere in these United States of ours.[6]

Neval H. Thomas, President of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the NAACP from 1925 until his death in 1930, wrote to the Washington Post: “It cannot be forgotten that the same Southern spirit that wishes to raise this monument raises mountains of barriers across the path of Negro progress, hence we must ‘fear the Greeks, though bearing gifts.’”[7] This letter was considered significant enough as to be reprinted by the New Journal and Guide in their report on the controversy.

It was not just the hypocrisy that caused Black people to rally against the monument, but also a sense that the monument intentionally warped the horrific memory of slavery. The Broad Ax reprinted an editorial from Blackstone Valley News proclaiming that “the condition of the slave woman was so pitiable, hopelessly helpless that it is difficult to see how any woman, where white or black, could take pleasure in a marble statue to perpetuate her memory.”[8]

Various Black organizations and individuals wrote messages of dissent to legislators. One such appeal was made by Charlotte Hawkins Brown from Sedalia, N.C, who served in executive roles in both the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, associations created at the turn of the twentieth century with the goal of uplifting Black women and championing their civil rights. In a telegram to N.C. Congressman Charles M. Stedman—a vocal supporter of the bill in the House—Brown wrote:

The intelligent Negro women of the South appreciate your motive in advocating some kind of a memorial to the faithful services of Negro women during slavery, but deplore the fact that it should take the form of a ‘mammy monument.’… If the fine spirited women, Daughters of the Confederacy, are desirous of perpetuating their gratitude, we implore them to make their memorial in the form of a foundation for the education and advancement of the Negro children descendants of those faithful souls they seem anxious to honor.[9]

These appeals were ignored and the bill was officially passed in March of that same year. A report by the Afro-American claimed that the bill was passed out of respect for Senator Williams, who was about to retire, making the bill the last he would ever introduce in his career.[10]

[The idea of a “mammy” monument was not offensive to all Black citizens, however, and Black papers captured these countervailing opinions, as well. Another editorial in the New Journal and Guide supported the bill and called the dedication of a monument to mammies “a gracious thing for the Daughters of the Confederacy to do.”]{.mark}[11]{.mark}cannot hate the descendants of those ‘Colored Mammies’ as much as some would make it appear."[12] The piece finished by calling on the Black community to also honor “mammies,” as they

were the mothers who delivered us into life and no stronger and more heroic women than they ever took hold of the problem of freedom with more resolution and success in helping their husbands to make homes and educate their children after the Civil War.[13]

The author contended that “as their sons,” Black people should build a “mammy” monument of their own.[14]

In April 1923, a dean at Howard University, Kelly Miller, referenced the controversy in his address proposing a race conference[15] for the following year. He stated that he was in support of the monument, but that it was too soon after the war for the monument to be built. Nonetheless, he stated that

a few centuries from now when the stigma of the horrible conflict shall have been forgotten, then a monument should be built… as a fitting tribute to this ‘Nature-Woman’… who could take the infant child of another race on one knee and the infant of her own flesh and blood on the other and out of the Christlike fullness of heart pacify both.[16]

The Richmond Planet also published an editorial applauding the proposed monument, claiming that as offspring of the “black mammy,” “any monument which shall be a testimonial of affection to them shall be appreciated by us.” The editorial claimed that remembering the mammies would be beneficial to the Black community:

If the new Negro in his demand for equal rights and privileges would mix with his educational ability, the breeding, which carries with it the good manners and friendly disposition of these good old souls, their way would be easier and they would attain sooner the goal they seek as full-fledged American citizens of this Republic.[17]

The New York Age reprinted this piece in an editorial of their own in which they also issued a response:

Good manners and a friendly disposition are not incompatible with educational ability, but they are hard to maintain in the face of the denial of justice and human rights. Insistence upon these rights is too often misconstrued as a breach of manners and denoting an unfriendly spirit.[18]

Williams’ “Mammy Monument” bill died three months after its introduction, when Congress adjourned without taking further action to bring it into law.[19]

While this specific controversy brought a new level of attention to “mammy” monuments in the news, Black papers had published editorials about such monuments before. In 1914, an editorial was published in The Colorado Statesman stating that at a recent reunion of Confederate veterans in Jacksonville, a motion was passed encouraging the capital city of every former enslaving state to erect a “loyal slave” monument. The author of the editorial declared “the fact that the white men dared leave their wives and children to the protection of black men who were their slaves is in itself a tribute of which the American negro can always be proud”[20] and applauded the veterans’ proposition to memorialize the occurrence.

Another editorial from 1911 printed in The New York Age argued that existing loyal slave monuments were proof that slavery was not an “unutterably evil institution”—otherwise, the author stated, the slaves would have run away when the war broke out—and implied the existence of “a kindly [sic] feeling between master and slave.”[^21]

Still, an editorial by Roscoe Simmons in the Chicago Defender in 1921—applauding the demise of one such “mammy” statue proposal in D.C.—would seem to speak for the majority. “Good news for you. You have been worried to death over the 'Mammy Statue,” he began, before explaining that he had spoken to a highly placed source in Washington, who had asked Simmons to “tell the Colored people that Washington authorities will not see them humiliated in this way.” To which Simmons praised the petitioners and fundraisers who had fought the monument and pronounced the outcome “Very, very good.”[^22]

Olivia Haynie


Afro-American (Baltimore, MD). “By Weekly For Mammy Statue.” March 17, 1923.

Blackstone Valley News. “The Black Mammy Monument.” Broad Ax (Salt Lake City, UT), March 17, 1923.

Colorado Statesman (Denver). “Afro-American Cullings.” July 4, 1914.

Colorado Statesman (Denver). “Dr. Kelly Miller Gives Out Plans For A Race Conference.” April 7, 1923.

Fagan, Mattie. “No Mammy Monument.” New York Age, February 3, 1923.

Horwitz, Tony. “The Mammy Monument Washington Almost Had.” _Atlantic _(Washington, D.C.), May 31 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/the-mammy-washington-almost-had/276431/.

New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA). “Monument to ‘Southern Mammies.’” February 17, 1923.

New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA). “Proposed Mammy Monument Raises Much Commotion.” March 10, 1923.

New York Age. “Devotion of Slaves.” June 22, 1911.

New York Age. “Discussing the Proposed Black Mammy Monument.” February 17, 1923.

New York Age. “Protested ‘Mammy’ Memorial.” February 3, 1923.

New York Age. “The ‘Black Mammy’ Monument.” January 6, 1923.

Parker, Alison. “When White Women Wanted a Monument to Black ‘Mammies.’” New York Times, February 6, 2020.

Preston News Service, “‘Mammy’ Statue To Be Erected,” Richmond Planet, March 17, 1923.

Richmond Planet. “Discussing the Proposed Black Mammy Monument.” The New York Age, February 17, 1923.

Simmons, Roscoe. “The Week.” Chicago Defender, March 31, 1923, 13.

Wikipedia. “Mammy memorial.” Accessed June 30, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammy_memorial.

Wikipedia. “Negro Sanhedrin.” Accessed June 23, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negro_Sanhedrin.

  1. Preston News Service, “‘Mammy’ Statue To Be Erected,” Richmond Planet. ↩︎

  2. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Proposed Mammy Monument Raises Much Commotion.” ↩︎

  3. (Wikipedia, “Mammy memorial.”) ↩︎

  4. (Parker, “When White Women Wanted a Monument to Black ‘Mammies,’”) ↩︎

  5. New York Age, “The ‘Black Mammy’ Monument.” ↩︎

  6. Fagan, “No Mammy Monument,” New York Age. ↩︎

  7. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Proposed Mammy Monument Raises Much Commotion.” ↩︎

  8. Blackstone Valley News, “The Black Mammy Monument.” ↩︎

  9. New York Age, “Protested ‘Mammy’ Memorial.” ↩︎

  10. Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “By Weekly For Mammy Statue.” ↩︎

  11. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Monument to ‘Southern Mammies.’” ↩︎

  12. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Monument to ‘Southern Mammies.’” ↩︎

  13. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Monument to ‘Southern Mammies.’” ↩︎

  14. New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Monument to ‘Southern Mammies.’” ↩︎

  15. The conference was known as the “Negro Sanhedrin,” and took place from February 11^th^ to 15th, 1924. Its primary focus was to form a national coalition for protecting the rights of Black tenant farmers and wage workers. (Wikipedia. “Negro Sanhedrin.”) ↩︎

  16. Colorado Statesman (Denver), “Dr. Kelly Miller Gives Out Plans For A Race Conference.” ↩︎

  17. Richmond Planet, “Discussing the Proposed Black Mammy Monument.” The New York Age. ↩︎

  18. New York Age, “Discussing the Proposed Black Mammy Monument.” ↩︎

  19. Horwitz, “The Mammy Monument Washington Almost Had.” Atlantic (Washington, D.C.). ↩︎

  20. Colorado Statesman (Denver), “Afro-American Cullings.” ↩︎