“Telling Our Own Story”: Analyzing the Recontextualization of the Spirit of the Confederacy Monument by the Houston Museum of African American Culture



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In 2020, the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) acquired Spirit of the Confederacy, a Confederate monument commissioned by the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1908. As a result, HMAAC became the first and only known African American museum in the United States to house and display a Confederate monument. Interested in the significance of the museum’s acquisition for the nation’s Confederate monument debate – which is generally divided between those who view monuments as emblems of a southern heritage and those who view them as connected to anti-Black racism and white supremacy – this thesis examined two key questions. First, as an establishment that extends the tradition of African American museums while attempting a new, contemporary, and multicultural vision, how does HMAAC respond to the legacy of white supremacy encapsulated in Spirit of the Confederacy? Second, how does the museum’s acquisition expand upon our understanding of the Houston Robert E. Lee Chapter’s activities and its commissioning of Spirit? This thesis analyzed primary sources related to the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the UDC and HMAAC. It contextualized those sources with previous scholarship on the Confederate tradition, the African American museum movement, and relevant periods in American history, including the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow Era. The findings of this project suggest that HMAAC’s acquisition of Spirit exemplifies and extends the museum’s simultaneous commitment to the African American museum tradition and its present-day multicultural, community-oriented mission. These findings may be of interest to American/African American museums who, in pondering what to do with monuments remaining in public spaces, can refer this case study to inform their handling of these controversial items.



Houston Museum of African American Culture, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Spirit of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederate monuments, African American museums