Mammy also endures in stone, though not in the dramatic fashion the UDC once envisioned. At Confederate Park in Fort Mill, S.C., an obelisk "dedicated to the faithful slaves," unveiled in 1900, includes a mammy cradling a baby. In 1914, a towering monument was unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery to the "Dead Heroes" of the Confederacy. Standing near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the monument's frieze includes a turbaned and heavyset mammy, holding up a white child for a departing rebel to embrace.
Today, at the nearby Lee Mansion, visitors get a truer glimpse of what a mammy's life was like. Behind Robert E. Lee's stately columned home stand the simple slave quarters where up to ten people occupied a single room. In one, furnished with a pallet and chamber pot, lived "Nurse Judy," also known as "Mammy," who cared for Lee's children, one of whom described her in a letter as "very weak and thin."
Another counterpoint to the Southern lore of contentedly servile black woman can be found across the Potomac River, at 10th and U Street in Northwest Washington. It is a monument titled "Spirit of Freedom," honoring the almost 210,000 blacks who served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War. The sculpture includes a black woman holding her own child, beside a black soldier. A monument to black servicemen was first proposed in 1916 but not built in Washington until 1998.
"I'm proud this country finally got around to honoring these guys who fought for freedom," says a recent visitor to the monument, Joseph Brown, a retired black finance manager from Houston. His pride, however, dimmed a bit when he was shown a grainy picture of the very different monument that was proposed in 1923. "You're kidding me. We almost put up Aunt Jemima near the Mall?"
Brown's grandmother worked in a white home in Louisiana. He believes many Southerners were sincere in their affection for "mammies" and "maids," noting that half the people at his grandmother's funeral were white. "That history really happened, and there was genuine closeness," he says. "But a Mammy monument? That's repugnant, because it's using her as a symbol of servitude."
Historian Catherine Clinton says that if the monument had been built, it would strike tourists today as "a monstrous apparition" from our past. It might even have been hidden from view, inside a box -- the fate of a faithful slave memorial in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. But rather than cringe over the Mammy monument, Clinton believes we should celebrate the "unsung heroism" of those who opposed it. The controversy mobilized black women whose protests were a precursor of their activism in the civil rights movement of later decades. One such pioneer was Mary Church Terrell, a daughter of slaves who became founding president of the National Association of Colored Women* and later took part in pickets and other protests against segregation in the 1950s. As a leader of the protest against the Mammy monument, she warned that if it were built, thousands of blacks "will fervently pray that on some stormy night the lightning will strike it and the heavenly elements will send it crashing to the ground."
This wasn't necessary, Clinton observes, because Terrell and others "struck it down themselves."
*The name of this association has been corrected.