- Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory by Andrew Denson
IN MONUMENTS TO ABSENCE, Andrew Denson analyzes memorialization, heritage work, and a century of tourism focused on the public memory of Cherokee removal and the Trail of Tears in the US South. Broadly, the book explores public commemoration in tourism across the twentieth century, specifically in relation to its embrace of Cherokee history. Monuments covers the "romantic story" of the Eastern Band Cherokee origins (popularized in the 1920s and 1930s), removal commemoration after World War II, and regional and national efforts to remember the Trail of Tears as part of an exceptional narrative of the United States. For Denson, memorials invite rethinking what indigeneity, race, and US colonialism continue to mean for visitors, tourists, and heritage workers. As a comparative project, this study points to dominant narratives of Indian removal as central for understanding how the US South emerged along multiple axes of race and settler frameworks.
Comprised of an introduction, seven chapters, and an epilogue, Monuments begins with the 1960s construction of Georgia's New Echota and the establishment of the 1987 National Historic Trail. Through the promotion of tourism in the region, Cherokee removal represents the most infamous form of Native dispossession—and an enduring narrative for "sympathetic white Americans" (3). The author seeks, in part, to highlight contradictions in US South memory studies, particularly its reliance on Black/white racial paradigms. Tourism popularized Cherokee history as a public discourse and at the same time sustained a "conception of a biracial contemporary South and, with it, the idea of Indian disappearance" (8). This comparative approach offers useful ways to understand how the story of Cherokee people in North Carolina has been consistently narrated as the past.
Chapter 1 traces earlier histories of long-standing preoccupations in early American politics that strategically dispossessed Indian nations' lands. It outlines US policies intended to "civilize Indians" as part of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries' imperial expansion project, tracing the emergence of treaties as the tool the United States leveraged to [End Page 173] expand its borders. Along with the 1827 Constitution, the chapter looks to print culture in the 1820s (such as the bilingual Cherokee Phoenix newspaper) as a platform for challenging policies. Chapter 2 shifts to auto-industry tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee and North Carolina. As automobile production surged during the 1920s and 1930s, tourism literature promoted the region by recounting "episodes from the Cherokee past" (focused on the Eastern Band and the Trail of Tears), encouraging tourists to "bask in Cherokee history when they visited" (53–54). A performance of Cherokee identity developed out of this increase of white tourists, and pageants provided one public platform. Booster tourism enabled promoters to incorporate a sense of history to advertise "Cherokee distinctiveness," promising intimate contact with "a premodern way of life." The chapter traces an in-transit Trail of Tears discourse across North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kansas through memorials, plays, and pageants.
Chapter 4 examines 1950s memorials in Georgia and the restoration of several Cherokee public buildings at New Echota. Memorialization of Cherokee removal in Georgia garnered state support, yet Black civil rights activism met intense resistance and violent suppression. Civil rights made remembering Cherokee removal more desirable for public memory, and acknowledging Native dispossession, Denson argues, allowed some white southerners a "politically safe way to consider their region's heritage of racial oppression" (112–13). Chapter 5 reads Unto These Hills—a play debuted in 1950 in North Carolina on the Qualla Boundary depicting Cherokee history from European contact through removal—as an underexamined cultural event. Viewed by over one hundred thousand people in its first season, the play offers a lens for reading debates surrounding American Indian affairs and termination at mid-twentieth century. As Denson notes, the drama "celebrated Cherokee assimilation, employing language that strongly echoed that of termination advocates" (136). The play re-presents an enduring narrative that writes Indians out of time, but it also demonstrates how tourism development shaped...