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Landmarks of Power: Building a Southern Past, 1885-1915 Catherine W. Bishir In 1901, the speaker at the dedication of the Olivia Raney Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, compared the city's landmarks with those of Washington, D.C. In the national capital, "three great architectural monuments" possessed "symbolic significance": the United States Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Library of Congress. "So in our smaller sphere," three landmarks of Raleigh stood out. First was the old State Capitol, "symbolizing the commonwealth's loyalty to constitutional liberty." Near it stood two newer landmarks. "Our handsome Confederate monument" on the Capitol grounds offered "a token of our loyalty to the memory of our fallen heroes who laid down their lives in defense of those principles for which Washington so successfully fought." And the library, given by local businessman Richard Beverly Raney in memory of his wife, provided "a memorial of the highest type of our cultured Christian womanhood"—a classically detailed building in which "the simplicity and elegance of its graceful proportions and unpretentious appearance" evoked its namesake's exemplary character , while its proximity to the war memorial recalled "that noble band of women" (including Mrs. Raney) "to whose untiring efforts we are chiefly indebted for our Confederate monument."1 In this address, the Reverend M. M. Marshall of Christ Episcopal Church in Raleigh identified three important types of landmarks that gained dominion throughout the turn-of-the-century South. In addition to revering antebellum buildings as survivors from a glorious past, leaders of his generation employed the twin arts of sculpture and architecture to assert their own definition of the past and its relationship to the present and the future. As Marshall's ceremonial comments illuminated, these new landmarks represented a set of interlocking beliefs, including the renewed place of the vindicated South in the American mainstream , the Tightness and patriotism of the Confederate cause, and the association of classical architecture with idealized southern virtues. Seen in the context of contemporary cultural and political events, the creation of symbolic sculpture and architecture by the southern elite functioned as part of their reclamation of regional and national power. As they placed monuments in prime civic spaces, whether commemorating the heroes of the Confed- Southern Cultures View of Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, ca. 1903, looking west from Union Square. Seen left to right: Olivia Raney Library, Confederate monument, and Raney House. Reprinted with permission from the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh. eracy, the patriotic women of colonial Edenton, or the Revolutionary fighters of the Cape Fear region, these leaders spelled out chapter after chapter of a saga of patrician Anglo-Saxon continuity, of order, stability, and harmony. The location of monuments in the state's principal civic places lent authority to the version of history they represented, while at the same time the monuments claimed those public spaces and thereby defined the setting for public life. And, just as monuments commemorated specific heroes and events, so architecture commemorated and asserted the renewed continuity of the values and way of life those heroes represented. In public and institutional buildings, classicism universally reiterated the ideal of a venerable and stable hierarchy, while in residential architecture the Colonial Revival symbolizing "the big-heartedness and hospitality which are the rightful heritage of the southern people" recreated in modern terms the deferential social relations the antebellum plantation represented. Thus, just as they took control of the political process during the decades spanning the turn of the century, the southern elite also codified a view of history that fortified their position in the present and their vision of the future. By erecting public landmarks celebrating that history and proclaiming a legitimizing continuum from the Old South to the New South, they shaped both public memory and public life. Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina's largest cities in 1890 and its main centers of political and cultural activity, provide case studies of this process during a defining period of crisis.2 Bishir: Landmarks of Power7 The Southern Elite as Shapers of Public Memory Throughout America in the decades just before and after 1900, political and cultural elites drew upon the imagery of past golden ages to shape...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 5-45
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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