This morning, Kevin Levin called on public historians to do their jobs. He is wondering what folks are doing to “help their communities make sense of the relevant history behind our ongoing and very emotional discussion about Civil War memory.”
I especially like the idea of public historians acting in their own neighborhoods. So here is what I am doing. I live very near the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery. You’ll note that I have posted about this cemetery several times over the past years concerning its many Civil War connections, both to history and popular culture.
Right at the entry off of Santa Monica Boulevard is a somewhat unassuming memorial to the Confederate soldiers who, after serving their cause, relocated to the west coast and lived out their lives in the great City of Angels. I know that some who regularly visit this monument would hope that Confederate commemorative efforts on the grounds go unnoticed. A representative from the United Daughters of the Confederacy once told me, and I am not making this up, that the neighborhood had “gotten a little dark…if you know what I mean” and that Confederate ceremonies could be asking for trouble. Well, I did know what she meant but in all honesty, I suspect that most people who live in this primarily Latino part of town don’t give a shit about your monument.
But…the location of the monument is right smack in the middle of a heavily trafficked area swarming with tourists looking for Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Dee Dee Ramone, Vampira, and about a zillion other celebrity graves.
Until lately I would have thought nothing of it. But with the controversies surrounding Confederate symbols and monuments very present in the media, I think it time that tourists, not suspecting that they will happen upon a monument to the Confederacy in Hollywood, get a little contextual history.
I have written to the office staff at Hollywood Forever asking how we might proceed with a small interpretive plaque. As I have mentioned, I think these, coupled with QR codes linking to some sort of site with historical information, would be very helpful in parsing through the more contentious elements of Civil War memory. I will keep you posted on what happens.
I will note one last thing. In this cemetery, you will find a recently erected commemorative stone honoring Hattie McDaniel, the actress who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind and the very first black person to ever win an academy award. She died of breast cancer in the early 1950s and wanted to be buried at Hollywood Forever. But she is buried elsewhere in Los Angeles. In the 1950s, Hollywood Forever was a white only cemetery. So, it seems that at one point the cemetery director thought it fine and dandy to honor those who fought against the United States, but not black Americans. Go figure.