1 year ago

What Mobile’s iconic Semmes statue says about the debate over Confederate monuments

June 26, 1900, had been a record-setting day in Mobile, dumping 12½ inches of rain in 12 hours. And stormy weather threatened again on the 27th.

But that did not stop thousands of people from showing up at the base of Government Street downtown to honor a local hero of the War Between the States, as the Civil War still was commonly called in the South. By 5 p.m., according to the Mobile Daily Register, an “immense crowd” that included ladies in “summer costumes and beautiful hats” ignored the “ugly black squall” to the east and filled out Royal Street and Duncan Place. They took up the sidewalks and galleries in the surrounding neighborhood.

In front of them sat a giant platform constructed for the unveiling of a bronze statue of Raphael Semmes, a Confederate admiral whom historians later would recognize as the most successful raider of commercial vessels in maritime history.

It is hard to imagine the scale of the presentation. Mayor J.C. Bush, city council members and other public officials sat on the left, while the late admiral’s daughter, Electra Semmes Colston, and other relatives sat on the right. The platform also housed the Semmes Camp No. 11 of the United Confederate Veterans and members of the press.


The Alabama National Guard looked on as the Excelsior Brass Brand banged out “Dixie” and other tunes as a prelude to the afternoon’s speeches. Dignitaries included Edward P. Allen, the Catholic bishop of Mobile, and William J. Samford, who at age 17 had commanded the 46th Alabama Infantry and was in the middle of campaigning for what would be a successful run for governor of Alabama.

The newspaper drew a military metaphor in its description of the proceedings in coverage that took up nearly the entire front page of the next day’s paper: “For about an hour, the dark nimbus clouds were marshalling their flames there, much as an army is marshalling in battle array.”

In his address — interrupted by rain but continued once the assemblage had taken cover indoors — Samford seemed not to consider that possibility that future generations of Mobilians and Alabamians would be any less enthusiastic about bronze-and-granite tributes to “our great men and women” during the noble cause.

“That posterity, failing to appreciate and perpetuate the worth of its ancestors, will itself leave for its posterity nothing worth preserving in marble,” he said.

The Daily Register, in a separate article, agreed, saying, “We shall not likely hear one word of criticism from any respectable quarter of the Union for the passions of war have subsided, and all observers are able to recognize in Semmes the highest form of patriotism a noble bravery, and a chivalry that would have done credit to the proudest knight of the middle ages.”

It should be noted that, in fact, high regard for Semmes was not unanimous. Putnam’s Magazine of New York wrote a scathing review of Semmes’ memoir a few years after the Civil War, concluding, “There never was a meaner, more ungallant enterprise than that of the ship-scuttling skipper of the British pirate Alabama.”

Contemporary controversies

Future generations, as well, very much did question the nobility of Semmes and other Confederate giants immortalized in bronze and marble in Mobile and throughout the country. A movement to remove Confederate statues — through both legal means and outright vandalism — has gained steam since last year’s violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA.

State law prohibits local officials from disturbing the Semmes statue that overlooks the entrance to the Wallace Tunnel and has been a fixture in the Port City for more than a century. But a group called “Anonymous” last year included the Semmes statue on a hit list of Confederate monuments it wanted removed by destructive means.

The Semmes statue still stands, but the controversy raises two questions few Alabamians likely ever contemplate — who, exactly, was Semmes, and how did his statue come to be?

The inscription on the statue does a decent job of giving the highlights: He was a “Sailor. Patriot. Statesman. Scholar and Christian Gentleman.” The details have filled seven biographies.

The second question is important because critics have argued that the Confederate memorials had less to do with honoring the veterans of the Civil War and more to do with intimidating blacks during the Jim Crow era. They note that many of the statues went during the civil rights movement.

Alabama circa 1900 was a thoroughly racist society, to be sure. The year after the statue unveiling, Alabama voters would ratify a constitution riddled with explicitly racist language and provisions enshrining segregation. But if motivation for the Semmes statue was racial oppression — decades before the civil rights movement — there is no evidence of it in the exhaustive newspaper coverage at the time. None of the speakers quoted in the Daily Register articles on the ceremony mentioned racial superiority or segregation laws.

Samford, the Confederate veteran, was the only speaker to mention race at all — and then in order to dispute the notion that slavery was the cause of the war. He allowed that it was “possibly one of the fuses to the magazine.” But the true causes, Samford insisted, centered on “the right of each state to manage its own domestic institutions.”

Said Samford, “It was in defense of these fundamental principles that she staked all on the result of the great conflict.”

Semmes the man was a good deal more complicated than Semmes the legend. Born in 1809 to a family that traced his roots to colonial times, he spent his early years on a tobacco plantation with slaves in southern Maryland. After his parents died, he went at a young age to live with an uncle in Washington’s Georgetown community.

There, Semmes developed a love of books and the sea. In 1826, he won appointment to the U.S. Navy and chaffed over the next two decades at the slow pace of promotion during times of peace. During long periods on land, with reduced pay from the Navy, sailors had to find other ways to supplement their income. Semmes did so as a lawyer, an occupation he would pursue off and on for decades.

Marrying an abolitionist’s daughter

Semmes later moved to Cincinnati and courted the 17-year-old daughter of the couple who owned the house where he boarded. It was an odd-couple pairing in many ways. He was a devout Catholic 10 years her senior, from a slave state. She was the daughter of a prominent Protestant preacher and abolitionist.

Yet, Semmes and Ann Elizabeth Spencer married in 1837, shortly after his promotion to lieutenant.

Four years later, the family moved to Alabama. Semmes bought property near modern-day Josephine on the western bank of the Perdido River in Baldwin County. The property, which he called Prospect Hill, offered him easy access to Pensacola, where he was stationed in the Navy. It also gave him a ready income source for the lengthy down times — harvesting trees with the help of rented slaves.

Semmes later moved to Mobile in order to find better educational opportunities for his children. He bought three slaves to help his wife maintain the house during his many months at sea.

Semmes’ service during the Mexican-American War brought him, coincidentally, in close contact with a young Army lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant. The two future Civil War combatants manned howitzers on opposite sides of a church roof as the U.S. military fought its way into Mexico City in 1847.

Semmes’ views on race and a host of other subjects were well-documented in meticulous ship logs he kept during his long Navy service, surviving letters that he wrote and two memoirs.

Those writings leave little doubt that he believed in the superiority of the white race. In addition to the slaves he rented and the ones he owned, Semmes defended the institution in his writings. In his autobiographies, he described slavery in paternalistic terms, arguing that the institution offered blacks the best life.

In “Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War,” he argued the Mexican peasants lived worse than American salves. As he put it, “the master bestowing upon his slave the kindly feeling which is naturally inspired by those who are dependent upon us, and the slave, in return, regarding himself as a member of his master’s family, and more or less identified with his interests.”

In his second autobiography, “Service Afloat During the War Between the States,” Semmes downplayed the role of slavery in the conflict. “Such was not the fact,” he wrote. In the book, he recounted a conversation with a British captain during the war in which he supposedly told the seaman that the North used slavery as an excuse to justify robbery “by means of its tariffs” against the South.

“The slavery question was one of the implements employed, to help on the robbery of the South,” he wrote.

But Semmes contradicted not just the consensus of modern historians about what the war was about, but his own earlier writings. In logs he kept on the CSS Sumter in 1861, Semmes wrote that “we were fighting the first battle in favor of slavery.” He wrote that “the true issue of the war” was “an abolition crusade against our slavey property.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

41 mins ago

Alabama’s CoachSafely Foundation earns national recognition

In Alabama, we know what it means to be called a champion. It means you’ve accomplished something special.

Add Alabama’s own CoachSafely Foundation to this state’s distinguished roster of champions.

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This week, CoachSafely is being honored by the Aspen Institute‘s national Project Play initiative as a Project Play Champion at the Project Play Summit in Detroit. Of the 20 local, regional and national organizations to earn the designation for work to help build healthy children and communities through sports, CoachSafely is the only one based in Alabama.

Jack Crowe, the founder and chairman of the CoachSafely Foundation, called the recognition “a tremendous honor.”

“We at the CoachSafely Foundation thank the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and Project Play for the national leadership they provide,” Crowe said. “We’re all striving toward a common goal to make participation in sports an inclusive, enduring and positive experience for our youth. This recognition helps to validate our mission to keep children active, healthy and safe by educating youth coaches at the grassroots level.”

In 2018, thanks to CoachSafely’s efforts, Alabama became the first state to pass a law requiring youth coaches of athletes aged 14 and under to pass a broad-based course in injury recognition and prevention. Other states have begun to study the Coach Safely Act as a model for similar legislation.

The CoachSafely Foundation developed just such a comprehensive course, which covers:

  • Emergency preparedness, planning and rehearsal for traumatic injuries;
  • Concussions and head trauma;
  • Heat and extreme weather-related injury familiarization;
  • Physical conditioning and training equipment usage;
  • Heart defects and abnormalities leading to sudden cardiac death;
  • Overuse injuries;
  • Emotional health of the child-athlete.

Through a joint venture between CoachSafely and the Alabama Recreation and Parks Foundation, about 12,000 youth coaches throughout Alabama have completed the training course to help keep their athletes as safe as possible. CoachSafely maintains a database of coaches who’ve completed the training course, which is available online or in person.

The CoachSafely Foundation’s impact can be measured both by the number of youth coaches trained locally and by this national recognition for its groundbreaking efforts to equip those coaches with the knowledge that will enable them to prevent injuries and recognize them when they do occur.

The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program launched its Project Play initiative in 2013 “to apply and share knowledge that helps build healthy communities through sports, to produce reports that take measure of the state of play at the national, regional and city levels, with exclusive data and insights, and to create frameworks and tools that stakeholders can use to grow access to quality sport.”

Among the other organizations honored this week as Project Play Champions are Special Olympics, for developing an implementation guide for coaches that will increase its developmental sports offerings; the U.S. Soccer Foundation, for advancing the development of mini-pitches in areas where space is at a premium; and US Lacrosse and USA Field Hockey, for partnering to develop a multi-sport sampling program.

So CoachSafely finds itself in good company doing good work for a good cause. Which is another definition of champion.

For more information, go to CoachSafely.org.

This story originally appeared on Kevin Scarbinsky’s blog.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

What is the responsibility of business?

The Business Roundtable (BR), a group of chief executive officers (CEOs) of some of America’s largest corporations, recently released a statement claiming that businesses have a broader purpose than simply making profit. By contrast, in a famous essay economist Milton Friedman argued that the social responsibility of business was to increase its profit. The BR statement may perhaps be pure public relations. Still, should we regard profit as less important than other potential business goals?

Answering this depends on the nature of profits. In the market, all transactions are voluntary. No business, however large, can compel anyone to buy their product, work for them, or loan them money. Profit must be earned by producing valuable goods or services. Customers will only buy a product that delivers more value than comparably priced goods, or similar value for a lower price. Workers will only work if the pay and conditions compare favorably to other jobs.

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In a market economy, profit cannot be made through exploitation. Some people, unfortunately, do not have very good alternatives. Many Americans do not consider a minimum wage job attractive; the person willing to work for $7.25 an hour is better off, given their other options. We might lament the lack of better alternatives but any better opportunity is an improvement.

Should corporations lower prices or pay workers more instead of earning profits? Not necessarily. Profit is the reward for investors who enable investment, the hiring of workers, and production. Profit also enables charity. America’s great philanthropic foundations – like the Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates Foundations – were built off enormously successful and profitable businesses. If Microsoft were not so profitable, Bill Gates could not be so charitable today.

Why will stockholders want businesses to earn profits? Millions of Americans own stock, either directly or through their pension plans. They invest for many different reasons: for retirement, to provide for their children or grandchildren, or to enable donations to charitable causes. Money allows the stockholders to pursue these distinct goals. Absent specific evidence otherwise, we should presume that stockholders want profit.

The BR statement says that corporations have commitments to other stakeholders: they should deliver value to customers, treat and compensate employees fairly, and deal ethically with suppliers. I see no real divergence here from Professor Friedman, who insisted that increases in profit had to be achieved within society’s legal and ethical bounds.

This might seem surprising, as corporations appear to many to shortchange customers and take advantage of employees. Yet markets are entirely voluntary. Providing a shoddy product and ignoring customer complaints may reduce costs and increase profit in the near term. But dissatisfied customers will turn elsewhere and damages a company’s reputation.

Corporations rely on their employees, as the owners do not do all the work themselves. The workers know how to make a business’ products. Dissatisfied workers can quit, taking their training and skills with them. Stiffing workers on overtime or benefits may save a little money, but losing skilled workers is very costly.

Treating people the right way – especially customers, employees and suppliers – is arguably how to increase profits. It may be difficult to quantify how much this adds to the bottom line and so may appear to be an item of faith. Still, the BR statement here just seems like good business.

One of Professor Friedman’s concerns remains relevant today. CEOs make decisions, give speeches, and receive media attention but ultimately do not own corporations. Owners ultimately get to make the decisions; the CEO works for the stockholders, represented by the board of directors.

A CEO may choose to support trendy social causes to build a reputation as an enlightened executive. It is easy to be charitable with other people’s money. Hold your applause when businesses support broader social causes. CEOs ultimately should heed the stockholders and not grab the spotlight to boost their egos.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

4 hours ago

Alabama Maker Siluria Brewing has tapped into local flavor of Alabaster

Siluria Brewing Company was built in a renovated post office and has delivered on a promise of good beer and an inviting atmosphere for locals and visitors.

Just a few turns off Interstate 65 in Alabaster, Siluria Brewing has established itself as a part of the community since it opened in November 2018.

Danny and Tammy Sample, a soon-to-be-retired military veteran and a retired dental hygienist, respectively, opened the brewery in the city they love.

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Siluria Brewing is an Alabama Maker of local beer from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We knew we wanted an old building, we wanted there to be some history and character and we didn’t feel like we could do that if we built a new building,” Tammy said. Renovating took almost a year, but what they have now is a place that represents them and Alabaster. The dynamic duo knew they wanted the place to be as much about family as it is about beer.

Siluria Brewing is named after the town of Siluria from the 1890s. It remains a neighborhood in Alabaster, but was absorbed into the larger Shelby County city in the 1970s.

Danny said he felt the city needed something like Siluria Brewing that it could embrace and enjoy.

The Samples have succeeded in bringing old and new together, drawing on history while offering a new place to gather after work or for live music on the weekends.

A variety of nine beers aims to have something for all beer lovers. For those not into beer, the Samples are expanding into wine.

Through it all, Danny said the goal is to keep the focus where it is.

“We’re not going to try to compete statewide or nationwide,” he said. “We just truly want to stay local and be a true small, local business.”


Siluria Brewing Company

The product: Craft beer with special seasonal offerings.

Take home: A growler of Cock-On-A-Rock ESB.

Siluria Brewing Company can be found online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band to perform in 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama Million Dollar Band has been selected to perform in the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, representing the state of Alabama.

This will mark the first appearance by the band in the Parade. The Million Dollar Band will join the Parade to the call of “Let’s Have a Parade,” the iconic phrase that has signaled the start of every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1924.

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“It’s fitting that the UA Million Dollar Band, one of the most respected university marching bands in the country, will be performing in one of the largest parades in the world,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “What Alabama fans have been able to enjoy on Saturdays will now be shared with more than 50 million people live on the streets of New York and watching on television. We’re honored by the invitation, and I couldn’t be more pleased by the work of these talented student musicians.”

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of America’s iconic holiday traditions,” said Dr. Ken Ozzello, UA professor of music and director of bands. “Having the opportunity to participate will be thrilling for the members of the Million Dollar Band and provide them with life-long memories.”

Each year, the Macy’s Parade Band Committee looks for bands that have the stage presence and the musical and marching abilities to captivate more than 3.5 million live spectators and more than 50 million viewers. The Million Dollar Band was selected from more than 100 applicants as one of nine bands to march in the 94th edition of the annual holiday spectacle.

The band will join the revelry along with other iconic Macy’s staples: floats, giant character balloons, clowns and superstar performers galore on Thanksgiving Day 2020, helping create an unforgettable experience for millions.

“When most Americans think of The University of Alabama, they may think about football, however, it is the exciting showmanship, entertaining performances and incredible music at halftime that captures our attention,” said Wesley Whatley, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade creative producer. “The Macy’s Band Selection Committee is proud to welcome the sights and sounds of The Million Dollar Band to the streets of New York City for their inaugural appearance in the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!”

The Million Dollar Band will spend the next 14 months planning for their Parade appearance.

“In preparation, the band will work on its marching technique, as well as the standstill portion of the Parade which is televised by NBC,” Ozzello said. “It will be a challenge to stage 400 musicians and performers in front of Macy’s, but the staff is eagerly looking forward to taking on that challenge.”

Performing for millions of fans each year, the Million Dollar Band has been a Crimson Tide tradition for more than 100 years, and it has become one of the most respected university marching bands in the country. The band, which is made up of more than 400 students from almost every major and department on campus, is UA’s largest student organization.

For more than 90 years, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has given thanks to what Macy’s values most – its loyal fans. More than 5,000 Macy’s employees and dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to create a spectacular event that entertains the cheerful crowds and provides joy to millions at home watching on Thanksgiving Day. Stretching down a more than two-mile-long route in New York City, the spectacle is alive with gleaming color, music and smiles.

Shane Dorrill is the Assistant Director of Communications, Broadcast Media and Safety at the University of Alabama

5 hours ago

Thousands of Alabama 8th graders attend mega career fair

More than 7,900 eighth graders from across southwest Alabama visited the Mobile Civic Center Wednesday and Thursday for the 10th annual Worlds of Opportunity hands-on career exploration event.

New this year was WOO Varsity, an event where high school students could learn about competitive, high-wage career opportunities and meet with potential employers. Students had the opportunity to talk with industry professionals about high-demand jobs, apprenticeships and enter for a $1,000 technical program scholarship drawing.

“We’ve got to grow our own talent,” Duplantis said. “We hope to create a spark and we could not do it without our sponsors like Alabama Power, BASF and ST Engineering — they’re all doing a wonderful job of giving these kids something that’s very hands-on. Our companies understand the need to start early in pipeline development.”

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Alabama Power sponsors and participates in the program.

Duplantis said this event is just another example of the positive energy surrounding workforce development and economic development efforts in Alabama.

“If we’re going to meet our demands, we’ve got to have an additional 500,000 workers with a degree or credential by 2025,” Duplantis said. “This is part of meeting that goal.”

To learn more about Worlds of Opportunity or career training opportunities in southwest Alabama, visit sawdcalabamaworks.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)