Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Subversive Black Mammy

Emory University
Published June 15, 2009

Speaking at Emory University on November 13, 2008, Dr. Wallace-Sanders considers Lost Cause monuments and memorials to the black mammy figure, responses from African-American writers and artists, and the relationship between these debates and real African-American women who cared for white children.

Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Subversive Black Mammy

Wallace-Sanders frames the question of memorializing mammies with images of the real women who were obscured in discussions of monuments to the mammy figure. She comments on a series of photographs of African American women with white children, moving through the images as she speaks.

Wallace-Sanders explores the Lost Cause desire for a monument to the black mammy figure. She discusses the Faithful Slave Monument in Fort Mill, SC, and the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery, which she compares, along with other mammy statues, to "Forever Free," a sculpture by Sargent Johnson. She addresses 1911 plans for the Black Mammy Memorial Institute in Athens, GA, slated as a monument and domestic training school for African-Americans.

Wallace-Sanders examines two texts that complicate the idealized notion of mammy as faithful retainer. "Mammy, A Story" from The Crisis presents a mammy turned killer by her grief over the loss of her own child. Charlotte Perkins Brown's "Mammy, An appeal to the heart of the South" calls for white women to honor mammies not with monuments but better working conditions and wages.
Wallace-Sanders looks at artists' responses to mammy memorialization. Two 1923 political cartoons directly address national mammy memorial proposals: one using the memorial discussion to call for anti-lynching laws and the other to call for fair wages and working conditions. The Black Arts Movement also pushes against the idealized black mammy figure, particularly Joyce Scott's Mammy/Nanny series. These images present a subversive mammy figure. She ends the lecture by silently showing the photographs she began with.

Question and Answer

Wallace-Sanders responds to questions about the photographs she uses, the proposed Mammy Memorial Institute, the political responses to the proposed mammy memorial in Washington DC, and the mammy figure within Lost Cause discourse.

About Kimberly Wallace-Sanders

Kimberly Wallace-Sanders is Associate Professor of American Studies and Women's Studies at Emory University. She received her PhD from Boston University and is the author of Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory (2008) and editor of Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (2002).


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