By Dell Upton
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Additional resources for What Can and Can't Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South
21 The demand for uplifting African American–themed monuments is also a corollary of more broadly held American attitudes toward commemoration. Since the early nineteenth century, Americans have demanded that their public monuments evince a positive outlook: that they honor achievement more than mourning loss. The latter has been, and remains, understood as more appropriate to private memorials in cemeteries and to impromptu ones at the sites of disasters. When mourning seeps into formal public monuments, as 22 INTRODUCTION critics of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and of the recent September 11 memorial in New York believed it did at those sites, it becomes controversial.
Lower-class and politically radical or nationalist blacks are often hostile or uninterested, as when some African Americans accused the black fraternity that created the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, of doing the white man’s work, or when a dark-skinned, homeless man in Birmingham told me in 2005 that the monuments in Kelly Ingram Park are for “the near whites,” not people like him. Differences of viewpoint also arose over the degree of frankness or reticence about racial oppression and conﬂict, about the use of historicist, abstract, or mythic (Afrocentric) visual language, and about the inclusion or exclusion of particular individuals and incidents.
It stood on the grounds of the Joe T. Smitherman Historic Building, a local museum named after the city’s long-serving mayor. Smitherman was ﬁrst elected just before the momentous civil rights demonstrations of 1965 and held ofﬁce with only a short break for the following thirty-ﬁve years. , a computer consultant who had run unsuccessfully against him twice before and who had been campaign manager for Smitherman’s black challenger in 1984. Perkins had just assumed ofﬁce when D UA L H E R I TA G E 35 the monument went up, so it was interpreted as a rejection of black political power.