"Nothing Quite So Dead as an Idea Tried and Found Wanting"

Criticisms of Confederate Commemoration from the Twin Cities

Minnesota’s Twin Cities—Minneapolis and St. Paul—share a strong tradition of Black commentary on Confederate commemoration stemming back to the late nineteenth century. The Twin Cities played host to four (or five, depending on how you count) Black-led newspapers: the Appeal, the Twin City Star, the Western Appeal, the Minneapolis Spokesman, and the St. Paul Recorder. (The latter two were the same newspaper, but titled differently depending on which side of the metro area they were distributed.[1]) Black journalists at these publications lent their powerful voices to the work of naming the injustices perpetuated by Confederate commemoration in the country.

The Appeal published a number of articles between 1887 and 1923 on Confederate commemoration. The two earliest were from 1887, both covering the emerging anchor of the future Monument Avenue—the sculpture of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. These pieces discussed the Parisian sculptor Antonin Mercié, the plans for the monument, and the laying of the cornerstone.[2] In 1889, the Appeal published a fiery op-ed on the Lee memorial, observing that “if anybody believes the ex-Confederates are conquered because they are whipped, [they are] sadly mistaken.”[3]

The Appeal continued to monitor and comment on commemoration and the legacy of the Confederacy in the decades that followed. In 1902, for instance, the Appeal cited a recent meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, at which “an immense confederate flag occupied the most conspicuous place over the stage, high above the stars and stripes,” noting that “The Southern people are still rebels.”[4]

The Appeal also responded to other news outlets around the country. In 1905, the Appeal quoted an article from the historically white Charleston News and Courier, which stated that a “new North” will soon emerge that will feature “statues of Lee and Stonewall Jackson… in the squares of Northern cities as types of ideal Americans.”[5] The Appeal fiercely criticized the notion of Confederate veneration in Northern cities, arguing that the “new North” was, in fact, actually the old North that discriminated against Black people.[6] The Appeal also commented on Confederate flags, the Ku Klux Klan, Confederates honored in Statuary Hall, and monuments to “Mammies.”[7]

Between 1915 and 1917, the Twin City Star published a cluster of three articles covering the return of captured Confederate flags to the South.[8] These pieces spoke favorably of the stretching of a “fraternal hand” from the North to the South to heal historic wounds. As one such piece stated, “The time must come when there will be no more ‘trophies’ of the victory of one section of Americans over another.”[9]

The Western Appeal published three articles between 1887 and 1888 on issues related to the national political environment, various small monuments, and the return of captured Confederate flags.[10] But on the issue of President Grover Cleveland’s return of flags to ex-Confederates, the Western Appeal struck a bitter tone. An 1887 piece stated:

The trouble in this country today has been brought about by the wishey-washey gush and slush sentimental policy which has been followed since rebels were, not conquered, but only forced to lay down their arms. Had every man who swore allegiance to the Confederate government been for ever [sic] irrevocably disfranchised and debarred from holding any office of honor, trust, or emolument in the United States, Cleveland would not now be warming the presidential chair, nor would the most prominent foreign missions be filled by ex-Confederates. The country would be Republican, and the “Negro Problem” would not be the great bug-bear that it is at present. The old rebel spirit still lives.[11]

The article went on to offer warning about the Southern-dominated Democrats seeking control of the country, payment of Confederate debt, reimbursement of slaveholders, and pensioning of Confederate soldiers.

This interest in the dynamic between Confederate commemoration and policy continued into the twentieth century. The _Minneapolis Spokesman _and St. Paul Recorder published a number of articles between 1937 and 1961 on a wide range of relevant topics, including the display of Confederate flags, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause.[12] In a 1956 article, for instance, the Minneapolis Spokesman/St. Paul Recorder criticized interposition—the legal notion that states have the right to make decisions about which federal policies are constitutional and so selectively apply them to their citizenry. Interposition was the guiding principle of the “massive resistance” movement of Southern states refusing racial integration of schools.[13] As the article stated: “We hear a great deal about sovereign states at national political conventions and in national political years. But the phrase, as applied to the 48 states separately, is a myth. There is one sovereign state in this country and one only, the United States of America.”[14]

And the promotion of the doctrine of interposition was directly linked to Confederate commemoration: “There is a kind of false romanticism and almost paranoid nostalgia about much of the southern agitation over the supreme court segregation decision,” the piece continued. “It is all mixed up with ‘Dixie’ and the sudden rebirth of the Confederate flag. But the modern world moves away from ‘lost causes,’ however romantic, and there is nothing quite so dead as an idea tried and found wanting.”[15] The resurgence in visibility of Confederate flags, as these journalists saw it, reflected rising support for the myth of state sovereignty.

In a 1961 article, the Minneapolis Spokesman/_St. Paul Recorder _recorded psychologist L. D. Reddick’s view of the function of Confederate commemoration:

He said that most of this money is wasted and that much harm is being done to national unity and progressive ideas, for the South is gaining wide acceptance of what it looks upon as a glorious Lost Cause. Confederate flags, pageants, songs, and such organizations as the Daughters of the Confederacy and its junior branch, the Children of the Confederacy, pictures and monuments to Confederate heroes—all serve to perpetuate a false image of history and strengthen the old ante-bellum ideals of white supremacy and Negro inferiority.[16]

Justin Seward


Afro-American. “By Weekly for Mammy Statue.” March 17, 1923, 1.

Appeal. “If Anybody Believes the Ex-Confederates are Conquered.” June 15, 1889, 2.

Appeal. “In Good Old Georgia.” February 12, 1910, 2.

Appeal. “Jeff Davis in the Capitol.” April 11, 1914, 2.

Appeal. “Minnesota Will Give Back All Captured Confederate Battle Flags.” April 22, 1922, 2.

Appeal. “Rebs to Honor K.K.K.” November 15, 1919, 2.

Appeal. “The Laying of the Cornerstone.” November 5, 1887, 2.

Appeal. “The Paris Sculptor.” July 16, 1887, 2.

Appeal. “Two Flags Displayed.” August 11, 1906, 6.

Fallows. “The Return of the Colors.” May 29, 1915, 4.

Hancock, Dean Gordon B. “The Presidential Candidates and the Southern Tradition.” Minneapolis Spokesman, 10/31/1952, 10.

Minneapolis Spokesman. “Confused Texas Asks: ‘Which Flag?’” January 23, 1959, 3.

Minneapolis Spokesman. “Rebel Myths on Confederacy Blocks Dixie Integration.” March 10, 1961.

Minnesota Historical Society. “About St. Paul Recorder 1934-2000.” Library of Congress: Chronicling America. Available at https://www.loc.gov/item/sn83016804/

Newman, Cecil. “Background of Student Sit-Downs at Dixie Store Lunch Counters.” Minneapolis Spokesman, August 331, 1952.

Twin City Star. “Returning the Battleflags.” May 26, 1917, 4.

Twin City Star. “Stars and Stripes and Stars and Bars.” May 29, 1915, 1.

Western Appeal. “Notes of the Times.” April 23, 1887.

Western Appeal. “Take Notice.” June 18, 1887.

Western Appeal. “The Rebels Wince.” March 10, 1888.

Bibb, Joseph D. “Flying of Rebel Flag Condemned by Courier Writer.” Minneapolis Spokesman, November 23, 1951.

Minneapolis Spokesman. “Adlai Waves Rebel Flag.” October 31, 1952, 12.

Minneapolis Spokesman. “NAACP Official Gives National Picture; Urges End to Segregation.” February 15, 1953, 2.

Omaha Guide. “Says Southern Women Keep Rift Open.” Minneapolis Spokesman, October 16, 1937, 3.

Minneapolis Star. “Power of a Myth.” Minneapolis Spokesman, February 3, 1956, 2.

Minneapolis Spokesman, “Out West.” November 9, 1951, 1.

Equal Justice Initiative. “Massive Resistance.” Available at https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

  1. Minnesota Historical Society, “About St. Paul Recorder 1934-2000.” ↩︎

  2. Appeal, “The Paris Sculptor,” 2; Appeal, “The Laying of the
    Cornerstone,” 2. ↩︎

  3. Appeal, “If Anybody Believes the Ex-Confederates are Conquered,”
    2. ↩︎

  4. Appeal, “The Northern and Southern People,” 2. ↩︎

  5. Appeal, “The New North,” 2. ↩︎

  6. Appeal, “The New North,” 2. ↩︎

  7. Appeal, “Two Flags Displayed,” 6; Appeal, “Minnesota Will Give
    Back All Captured Confederate Battle Flags,” 2; Appeal, “Rebs to
    Honor K.K.K.,” 2; Appeal, “Jeff Davis in the Capitol,” 2;
    Appeal, “In Good Old Georgia,” 2; Afro-American, “By Weekly for
    Mammy Statue,” 1. ↩︎

  8. Twin City Star, “Returning the Battleflags,” 4; Fallows, “The
    Return of the Colors,” 4; Twin City Star, “Stars and Stripes and
    Stars and Bars,” 1. ↩︎

  9. Twin City Star, “Returning the Battleflags,” 4. ↩︎

  10. Western Appeal, “The Rebels Wince”; Western Appeal, “Notes of
    the Times”; Western Appeal, “Take Notice.” ↩︎

  11. Western Appeal, “Take Notice.” ↩︎

  12. Minneapolis Spokesman, “Confused Texas Asks: ‘Which Flag?’” 3;
    Minneapolis Spokesman, “Rebel Myths on Confederacy Blocks Dixie
    Integration”; Newman, “Background of Student Sit-Downs at Dixie
    Store Lunch Counters,” 1, 4; Gordon, “The Presidential Candidates
    and the Southern Tradition,” 10; Bibb, “Flying of Rebel Flag
    Condemned by Courier Writer”; Minneapolis Spokesman, “Adlai Waves
    Rebel Flag,” 12; Minneapolis Spokesman, “NAACP Official Gives
    National Picture; Urges End to Segregation,” 2; Omaha Guide, “Says
    Southern Women Keep Rift Open,” 3; Minneapolis Spokesman, “Power
    of a Myth,” 2; Minneapolis Spokesman, “Out West,” 1. ↩︎

  13. Equal Justice Initiative. “Massive Resistance.” ↩︎

  14. Minneapolis Spokesman, “Power of a Myth,” 2. ↩︎

  15. Minneapolis Spokesman, “Power of a Myth,” 2. ↩︎

  16. Minneapolis Spokesman, “Rebel Myths on Confederacy Blocks Dixie
    Integration.” ↩︎