The Black Mammy Monument

Why does Terrell object to the proposed monument? How would the monument undermine black women’s claims to equality if it were erected in the nation’s capital?
Imagine a conversation between Sojourner Truth and Terrell: would they agree or disagree about the value of the proposed monument? Why?

As the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War approached, the exclusively white Daughters of the Confederacy petitioned the U.S. Congress to authorize the use of public land to build a new public memorial in Washington, DC: a “monument to the faithful colored mammies” of the Old South. Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954)—the daughter of two former slaves—organized her colleagues in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to protest the proposal, drawing attention to the complex intersection of race and gender in the history of African American women.

—Sarah A. Morgan Smith

Source: Mary Church Terrell Papers: Speeches and Writings 1866–1953, 1923, Library of Congress:

Colored women all over the United States stand aghast at the idea of creating a Black Mammy monument in the capital of the United States. The condition of the slave woman was so pitiably, hopelessly helpless that it is difficult to see how any woman, whether white or black, could take any pleasure in a marble stature to perpetuate her memory.

The Black Mammy had no home life. In the very nature of the case she could have none. Legal marriage was impossible for her. If she went through a farce ceremony with a slave man, he could be sold away from her at any time, or she might be sold from him and be taken as a concubine by her master, his son, the overseer, or any other white man on the place who might desire her. No colored woman could look upon a statue of a Black Mammy with a dry eye, when she remembered how often the slave woman’s heart was torn with anguish because the children either of her master or their slave father were ruthlessly torn from her in infancy or in youth to be sold “down the country” where in all human probability she would never see them again.

The Black Mammy was often faithful in the service of her mistress’ children while her own heart bled over her own little babies deprived of their mother’s ministrations and tender care which the white children received. One cannot help but marvel at the desire to perpetuate in bronze or marble a figure which represents so much that really is and should be abhorrent to the womanhood of the whole civilized world.

We have all heard touching stories of the affectionate relationship existing between some Black Mammies and their little white charges whom they nursed with such tender care. The lot of some slave women was no doubt better than that of others. They were all slaves nevertheless, and the anguish suffered by one Black Mammy whose children were snatched from her embrace and sold away from her forever outweighed in the balance all the kindness bestowed upon all the slave women fortunate enough to receive it for 250 years.

Surely in their zeal to pay tribute to the faithful services rendered by the Black Mammy the descendants of slaveholding ancestors have forgotten the atrocities and cruelties incident to the institution of slavery itself.

If the Black Mammy statue is ever erected, which the dear Lord forbid, there are thousands of colored men and women who will fervently pray that on some stormy night the lightning will strike it and the heavenly elements will send it crashing to the ground so that the descendants of Black Mammies will not forever be reminded of the anguish of heart and the physical suffering which their mothers and grandmothers of the race endured for nearly three hundred years.

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