"The Memory of the Damnable Days of the Past"

Black Journalists in Seattle Attack Confederate Commemoration from the Pacific Northwest

Far away from the towering monuments and waving flags of the former Confederacy, the city of Seattle became a vital backdrop for Black reporters to reflect on the implications of commemorating rebellion. Two Seattle newspapers published a handful or articles on this theme: the Seattle Republican and the Enterprise. Both condemned the veneration and memorialization of the Confederacy and considered the deeper cultural implications of commemoration itself.

Between 1903 and 1920, the Seattle Republican published a total of four articles on Confederate commemoration. One such article discussed a proposed monument dedicated to Black “mammies”; the other three focused on Confederate likenesses in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. On the “mammy” monument proposal, the Seattle Republican wrote:

Erecting a million dollar monument to the black mammies of the South on the part of the Caucasian is not intended to be either edifying or elevating, save in the raising of the monument, but it is intended to keep alive the memory of the damnable days of the past, when the blacks as slaves served those would-be monument erectors as cruel and inhuman masters. Slavery was a blithing curse to this land of the free and the home of the brave, and the quickest way to ease our conscience about it is to forget it. Let the black mammies and Aunt Dinah’s pass from us like a dream. The Negro does not appreciate such false homage, and if done, it will but widen the breach between the whites and the blacks of this country and serve neither no good purpose.[1]

The “mammy” figure may not have been an explicit Confederate reference like Lee or Davis in bronze, but the authors of this piece had no question as to what was really being celebrated.

The Seattle Republican was equally acerbic toward the statue of CSA General Robert E. Lee proposed for Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building. In 1903, as the idea picked up steam in Virginia, the Seattle Republican argued that if the statue was erected, then “no objection should be made by it to the friends of Benedict Arnold placing a statue of him likewise in the National Capitol.”[2] Their conviction was that to commemorate a traitor to the country would be to dishonor the nation: “no more shameful nor disgraceful scene could be enacted than the placing of Lee’s monument in the National capital.”[3]

Virginia’s campaign succeeded, however, and in 1909, the year the statue was placed in Statuary Hall, the Seattle Republican wrote:

This man’s memory is to be escutcheoned[4] in the hall of fame of his country for his cussedness rather than for his patriotism. The country [is] honoring the memory of R. E. Lee, [who] struggled for four long years to smash into smithereens and was therefore a traitor [t]o her flag. Had Lee received his just deserts, he would have died a no less ignominious death than did Benedict Arnold. But a great change has come over the statesmen from the north these later years and in their effort to toady and truckle to southern sentiment, they not only give up all that their fathers fought, bled, and died for, but they absolutely insult the memories of the brave boys in blue who saved the Union from being destroyed by the red-handed murderers with Lee at their helm.[5]

The comparison between Lee and Benedict Arnold sought to activate American ideals of patriotism and loyalty—and contempt for treason. And a sharp, intensely frustrated accusation was lobbied at northern politicians whom these journalists saw as trying to curry favor with Southern states—a common criticism levied by northern Black newspapers. In a short article, the Seattle Republican also covered a dispute between two veterans—one Confederate, one Union—over the placing of the statue of Lee in Statuary Hall. According to the article, the Confederate had callously assaulted the Union veteran.[6]

Somewhat later, the Enterprise published two articles on Confederate commemoration in a three-month span. The first was a scathing commentary on the Democratic National Convention of 1928. The commentary focused primarily on political differences between the North and South, surveying everything from immigration to taxation to labor to racial tensions. The article concluded by bringing the point of racial exclusion in the Democratic party and its discriminatory policies to the forefront. The Northern Democrats in New York and elsewhere, according to the article, yielded “to the southern race point of view in the denial of the civil and human rights of colored citizens.”[7] The articles urged readers to explore “the troth of northern and southern democracy… at the unveiling of the monument to the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, at Stone mountain,” which was supported by various Democratic politicians.[8]

The Enterprise also commented in 1928 on the placement of a statue of Alexander H. Stephens in Statuary Hall. The article began by quoting Stephens’ 1878 declaration (made during his time in Congress) that he “wish[ed] to see the old relation restored.”[9] That “old relation” was enslavement. The Enterprise responded by warning their audience of the importance of forging alliances with antiracist whites:

First, you have Confederate flags returned; then you see the vice president of the Confederacy honored in the Capitol he wanted to tear down. Our white people are getting together. If you are wise, you will join them, make merry with them and shake hands.[10]

The Enterprise ended on a hopeful note, foretelling that acclaimed Black Union veteran Henry Lincoln Johnson would someday be honored in Georgia’s Capitol as well.

Justin Seward


Seattle Republican. “Erecting a Million Dollar Monument to the Black Mammies of the South.” May 13, 1910, 2.

Seattle Republican. “If Congress Permits the Southern Rebels.” February 27, 1903.

Seattle Republican. “In a Dispute Over the Placing of the Statue of Robt. E. Lee.” March 4, 1910, 2.

Seattle Republican. “Robert E. Lee’s Memory.” October 15, 1909, 1.

Enterprise. “Smith and the Democratic Party.” November 1, 1928, 4.

Enterprise. “Carpentier’s Famous Picture.” January 13, 1928,1.

  1. Seattle Republican, “Erecting a Million Dollar Monument to the Black Mammies of the South.” ↩︎

  2. Seattle Republican, “If Congress Permits the Southern Rebels.” ↩︎

  3. Seattle Republican, “If Congress Permits the Southern Rebels.” ↩︎

  4. A reference to a highly decorated coat of arms in the practice of heraldry. ↩︎

  5. Seattle Republican, “Robert E. Lee’s Memory.” ↩︎

  6. Seattle Republican, “In a Dispute Over the placing of the Statue of Robt. E. Lee.” ↩︎

  7. Enterprise, “Smith and the Democratic Party.” ↩︎

  8. Enterprise, “Smith and the Democratic Party.” ↩︎

  9. Enterprise, “Carpentier’s Famous Picture.” ↩︎

  10. Enterprise, “Carpentier’s Famous Picture.” ↩︎