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Monumental Absence Augusta Savage’s Unbuilt Monuments, 1931–1943


Augusta Savage intended to build monuments. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Harlem-based sculptor envisioned memorials to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the vaudeville star Florence Mills, the World War I service of the “Harlem Hellfighters,” and the writer and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson. None of these proposed works was erected, and they have not been included in scholarship examining Savage’s work and career. This essay considers Savage’s thwarted efforts as critical reminders that material absence does not connote a lack of vision, intention, or labor. I argue that Savage’s unbuilt monuments reveal her ambition to intervene in the Whiteness and maleness of the American memorial landscape and claim monuments as sites where Black lives and concerns can be represented. Engaging critical approaches to archival absence and the power of monuments, I explore the space these unbuilt monuments would have taken up in the world.

View of Augusta Savage’s unfinished sculpture After the Glory, ca. 1939. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 in. Augusta Savage Collection, Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Augusta Savage intended to build monuments. In 1931, when the Harlem-based sculptor returned from Paris, where she had spent two years supported by a Rosenwald Foundation fellowship, she wrote to George Arthur, the foundation’s program officer:

In view of the fact that the “Chicago World’s Fair” is scheduled to open within the next couple years, I have been thinking that it would be a good idea if myself or some other competent Negro sculptor would design a monument to Jean Baptiste Saint de Saible who was (so history tells us) the first settler of Chicago, and enter it as the Negro’s Contribution to the Exposition.

Of course such an undertaking would be very expensive to execute, & also, one would have to secure the permission of the City, or the executives of the Exposition. Do you think it possible to interest the Julius Rosenwald Fund in the undertaking?1

This letter is the only trace of Savage’s vision for a monument celebrating Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the French-speaking Black pioneer and trader who built the first homestead in what would become Chicago in the late eighteenth century.2 Mindful of the necessities of money and sanction that public works demand, Savage made the case that a sculptural monument could serve as a significant act of historical revision and civic inclusion for Black Americans. Arthur’s discouraging reply offered no assistance. He explained, “the Fund has not [sic] connection with the management of the World’s Fair and, therefore, we are unable to approach the officials with reference to your proposal,” and suggested she write to Lenox Riley Lohr, the general manager of the fair.3 It is not known if Savage ever wrote to Lohr, but it is certain that no sculptural monument to DuSable graced the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.4

And yet, Savage continued to envision monuments. Lift Every Voice and Sing, created for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, would be her only executed large-scale public commission. Drawing its title from the writer and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson’s 1900 poem — set to music later that year to become the American Negro Anthem — the sixteen-foot-high plaster sculpture took the form of a giant harp, with a choir of figures as the strings. Savage objected to its nickname “The Harp,” as it was called by fair officials, and even wrote to Grace Nail Johnson, James Weldon Johnson’s widow, for assistance in publicly rectifying the title.5 Painted and polished to look like black basalt, Savage’s monument was a striking exception to the pale, marble-like finishes of almost all the other large plaster sculpture commissions at the fair. It became a popular site with Black visitors, as captured in a photograph of a group posed with the sculpture (fig. 1).6 Like most of the sculptures produced for the event, Lift Every Voice and Sing was destroyed at the fair’s end.


Visitors posing in front of Augusta Savage’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, ca. 1939. Vintage gelatin silver print. Photograph by Peter M. Warren. Courtesy Queens Museum, New York

This article is the first to illuminate Savage’s sustained efforts, over more than a decade and at the height of her career, to create traditional monuments: large-scale sculptural works with commemorative purposes and fixed presence in public space. Savage imagined monuments to memorialize Johnson, the vaudeville star Florence Mills, and the World War I “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment. All three were conceived as memorials — envisioned to mediate bereavement and function as collective symbols that facilitate commemoration. None of these proposed works was ever erected.7

Savage’s unbuilt monuments reveal her ambition to intervene in the Whiteness and maleness of the American memorial landscape and claim public monuments as sites where Black American lives and concerns can be represented. More specifically, Savage’s proposals envision a landscape of monuments to commemorate a distinctly heterogenous range of subjects — historical and contemporary, male and female, collective and individual, traditionally heroic and unconventionally extraordinary. Following the architect and architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, I consider Savage’s designs as extensions of “the black counterpublic sphere,” shaped by Black Americans’ claims to “a physical space in the nation’s symbolic cultural landscape and a symbolic space in the nation’s historical consciousness, two spheres in which their presence and contributions have been calculatingly rendered invisible and abject for over two centuries.”8 The aim of this article is not only to restore unknown works to Savage’s oeuvre and the history of American monuments, but also, more critically, to reckon with their particular type of absence: the absence of monuments conceived but not constructed.

In the contemporary moment, many are attuned to the potency of absent monuments — those removed and those never constructed. Since the 2015 massacre at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, bronze and stone figures celebrating the White supremacist ideology of the Lost Cause have been pulled from their pedestals in public protest, barricaded from public view, and removed by government officials, sometimes under cover of night. They have also been protected by new legislation and armed White supremacists.9 As protesters took to streets around the world in summer 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police officers, more monuments celebrating the agents of European colonialism, transatlantic slavery, and White supremacy were interrogated and removed. In the United States, this era of removal has called attention to the dearth of public works dedicated to women and Black, Indigenous, and other non-White subjects. Alongside this reckoning with just who is missing in the inherited landscape of monuments lies a history of what might have been.10

I recognize Savage’s unbuilt monuments as creations that endure in the subjunctive mood, a tense that the literary and cultural historian Saidiya Hartman theorizes as critical to writing “a history of an unrecoverable past … written with and against the archive.” In Hartman’s groundbreaking work engaging the unrecoverable archive of the enslaved, she seeks to both “tell an impossible story and amplify the impossibility of its telling.” When the story is about an unbuilt monument, how can historians, in Hartman’s framing, “[labor] to paint as full a picture” as possible and refuse “to fill in the gaps and provide closure”?11 How to write a history of monuments imagined?12

A monument, the art historian Ruth B. Phillips writes, is a “deposit of the historical possession of power.”13 By extension, then, an unbuilt monument is a trace of dispossession, of the lack of power necessary to deposit this form into the landscape at a particular time. That lack compounds over time, because monuments work to govern the future’s relationship with the past by fixing historical narratives, significant persons, and cultural values in lasting form. As the art historian Kirk Savage explains, monuments work to “mold a landscape of collective memory, to conserve what is worth remembering and discard the rest.”14 The National Monument Audit conducted by Monument Lab, in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in 2021 concluded that monuments in the United States are overwhelmingly dedicated to White male subjects, reflecting the way that these objects “have been shaped by those with the time, money, and officially sanctioned power to craft and elevate the past in their own image.”15 Some might misread the existing landscape of monuments in the United States as evidence of a past in which monuments to and by BIPOC and female subjects were not desired, or were impossible to conceive of, or there was just no one to make them. Art historians can do away with these false assumptions by attending to unbuilt monuments.

Savage’s thwarted efforts are critical reminders that material absence does not connote a lack of vision, intention, or labor. However, to study unbuilt monuments poses a challenge: we cannot encounter the material, spatial presence of Savage’s designs, and we cannot look to what would have been nearly a century of reception history to understand their cultural impact and meanings. Still, Savage’s efforts endure in archives. Here, I undertake close readings of two unbuilt monuments: the memorials to Florence Mills and the Harlem Hellfighters. I ask, how might a reader today glimpse the specific shape of their absences, the space these unbuilt monuments would have taken up in the world? That is, the absence of Savage’s monuments is not merely the loss of an artistic process that did not come to fruition but also the absence of cultural work — the work of the monument — that did not take place.

Monumental Ambitions

Scholars and critics have long situated Savage as a key artist of the Harlem Renaissance. However, this prominence stands in tension with a lack of surviving works, the relative paucity of her sculptural output, and the small scale of her enduring sculptures. In 2018, when the art historian Jeffreen M. Hayes undertook an essential reappraisal of Savage’s career through the exhibition Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, just nineteen of Savage’s sculptures, in media including cast bronze, painted plaster, and carved stone, most from the late 1920s through the early 1940s, were presented.16 Not one was more than three feet tall. Her well-known large-scale works, primarily Lift Every Voice and Sing and Realization (fig. 2), endure only in photographs. Confronted today with the inability to gaze up at, be dwarfed by, or stand in the shadow of huge sculptures of Savage’s creation, equal in scale to her monumental ambitions, we recognize this loss as acute. It requires scholars to press back against the ways that Savage’s archives and remaining works skew small.


Andrew Herman, Augusta Savage with her sculpture Realization, ca. 1938. Photographic print, 10 × 8 in. Box 20, folder 23, Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, ca. 1920–65. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Throughout her career, Savage was often unable to afford the expensive materials, shipping, and storage necessary for the longevity of sculpture, relying on the whims of benefactors, foundations, and government funding sources, which, more often than not, were insufficient. Her sculptural output was also limited by her work founding and running a series of art schools and her fight to secure Works Progress Administration (WPA) jobs for herself and her community.17 This reduced material legacy extends to her archive; as the historian Jill Lepore laments, Savage “left no diary, no real account of herself.”18 As early as 1936, critics suggested that Savage’s lack of major sculptural works was in part her own doing, an implicitly gendered devaluation of her career. The art historian and theorist Alain Locke wrote: “Miss Savage’s sculptural technique has not entirely fulfilled her early promise.… Indeed, it is as a teacher that Miss Savage has been most effective.” Just a few years later, the art historian and artist James A. Porter echoed this narrative: “Because Miss Savage has been so unsparing of her time and strength in the cause of art education, she has lost valuable hours that otherwise would have been devoted to her own creative efforts.”19

Presciently, Savage intuited that her monument plans would not leave a material trace on the landscape. In a 1935 interview, she framed the tension between her work as an educator and output as a monument sculptor: “I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting … but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.”20 Although her success in developing the talent of her students was profound — among them several of the most significant artists of the next generation, including William Artis, Norman Lewis, and Jacob Lawrence — it should not be missed that, in this reflection, Savage wrestles with her ambition to create something “really beautiful, really lasting” — “my monument,” as she put it. Savage’s ambitions were literal, specific, and sustained. That she was discouraged, as well as farsighted, about her impact on future generations of artists does not mean that her monuments were conceived as ephemeral gestures.

Savage’s proposed monuments would have been groundbreaking interventions. In the United States during the 1930s, avowed modernists declared that the public statuary tradition was exhausted — “if it is a monument it cannot be modern, and if it is modern, it cannot be a monument,” as the cultural critic Lewis Mumford put it. Nevertheless, this period saw the landscape of sculptural monuments refurbished and expanded.21 For example, in New York City, where Savage lived, the WPA’s Monument Restoration Project repaired statuary from 1934 to 1937 throughout the city; this enhanced the visibility of existing monuments.22 Communities across the country continued erecting World War I memorials, including in Times Square, where a statue of the military chaplain Father Francis P. Duffy was dedicated in 1937. The 1930s were also a period in which at least twenty-two Confederate monuments, comprising statues, busts, arches, and reliefs, were built in eleven states, including New York.23 The new and newly refurbished monuments almost exclusively venerated White, male subjects. To name three prominent examples, this was the decade that the faces of four American presidents were chipped from Mount Rushmore (1927–41); James Earle Fraser’s statue of Theodore Roosevelt lording over figures of a Native American man and an African man was dedicated in front of the American Museum of Natural History (1939); and Ferdinand von Miller II’s statue of Dr. James Marion Sims, a gynecologist who experimented on enslaved Black women, was reinstalled in Central Park (1934).24 However, these were not the only monumental subjects it was possible to conceive.

The challenge mounted by African American monument making is often temporary or “exist[s] only in imagined spaces” because, as the art historian Kirsten Pai Buick has argued, “like Black Freedom,” Black monuments “cannot coexist within a nation that honors and holds Confederate monuments as sacred.”25 Buick places Savage’s large-scale and nonextant sculpture Realization in a genealogy of “African American monument making,” along with works by two other Black American women sculptors, Meta Warrick Fuller and Mary Edmonia Lewis. Buick argues that all three were engaged in creating “anti-monuments” that “rearticulated public space as a space of love, justice, and peace.”26 Their works embody the Black counterpublic sphere.

Florence Mills: “Another Monument Promised”

On February 17, 1932, under the title “To Live in Bronze,” the New York Amsterdam News published an image of a portrait bust flanked by “two rough sketches of the proposed design for the memorial to Florence Mills,” designed by Savage (fig. 3).27 The two designs are the only visual representations we have of Savage’s vision for the memorial to one of the first Black American female performers to achieve international fame. Mills was admired not only for her magnetic stage presence and voice, but also for her outspoken criticism of racial prejudice and injustice. Her untimely death in 1927, at the age of thirty-one, made her a tragic if fitting subject for memorialization.28 The brief text accompanying Savage’s designs suggests that the construction of a monument is imminent: “One of the two figures will be chosen for the design of the Memorial. The center sketch represents the bust which will grace the pedestal.”29 Nevertheless, no monument to Mills was ever erected. By January 1933, a columnist for the New York Amsterdam News noted the failure to create Mills’s memorial under the poignant title “Another Monument Promised.”30


“To Live in Bronze,” New York Amsterdam News, February 17, 1932, 3, box 445, folder 2, Fisk University, John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library, Special Collections, Julius Rosenwald Fund Archives

What would a monument to Mills have commemorated, preserved, and communicated? How might one sketch the contours of its absence? Mills represented (and still represents today) an unprecedented and unconventional subject for public statuary in the United States, and not simply because she was neither male nor White. Mills forged a new cultural figure in the 1920s as a Black celebrity who, as the performance historian Jayna Brown argues, embodied “the New Black Woman — urban, emancipated, cultivated, traveling abroad to represent the black cultural capital and the mobility of its people.”31 Like Savage, Mills grew up in a poor family and pursued an artistic life through her own determination. As her fame grew, Mills advocated for higher pay, refused degrading roles, and asserted her belief in racial equality.32 A telling anecdote from 1926 suggests Mills’s own unrealized ambition for the parts she might play. While starring in the London run of Blackbirds, Mills told the press that she “would like to play Peter Pan,” the lead role in J. M. Barrie’s famous play being performed at the time in London by White American actress and singer Dorothy Dickson.33 Imagining herself as Peter Pan, Mills not only countered racial exclusion by proposing to occupy the role of an assumed-to-be-White cultural icon but also introduced the possibility of transforming the implicitly racialized terms on which such cultural icons are made. A group of headshots suggests the mutability of Mills’s performative guises (fig. 4). In an essay published the year of her death, Mills wrote, “It is the eternal burden of the colored people — the penalization for an accident of birth — to be made to feel out of focus with the rest of humanity.… How absurd it all is — how utterably [sic] unfair!”34


White Studio (New York, N.Y.), Florence Mills. Photographs. Photo by White Studio © Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

At the time of her death, Mills was beloved by multiple publics — from the mostly White American and European audiences who raved about her starring performances in the transatlantic all-Black Broadway revues of the period, to the African American elites, press, and public who admired her as an icon of Black pride and progress. An obituary in the Pittsburgh Courier explained, “Florence Mills was more than a great and loveable personality; she was a symbol of the New Negro.”35

Mills was also a queer presence, known for her androgenous and gender-nonconforming self-presentation and her explicit cross-dressing performances. In the spectacular wedding act at the end of From Dixie to Broadway, Mills played the groom, portraying a “sedate, sophisticated, and domineering white, upper middle-class American man.”36 In Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, Mills appears as a kind of celebrity idol for the young Black women who are Hartman’s subject: “Young women with serial lovers, husbands in the plural, and women lovers too,” whose “lives unfolded in streets, cabarets, and tenement hallways,” who mimic Mills’s self-styling and prefer “to dress like men.” The final chapter of Hartman’s book, devoted to the intimate lesbian relationships and emerging masculinity of chorus dancer Mabel Hampton, tells us that Hampton adored Mills. Hartman imagines her sitting transfixed as “Mills’s beautiful sharp clear voice filled the [Aeolian] hall.”37 To picture Hampton stopping before Savage’s monument to Mills on a New York street in the 1930s is to envision a world in which the private, ephemeral forms of intimacy that Hartman posits as revolutionary could resonate in the grandeur, fixity, and permanence of monuments, which, as Savage knew, are privileged sites of world-making, addressed to the scale of a society and its future.

The cultural space Mills took up was space in Savage’s world. Savage was living in Harlem at the height of Mills’s fame in the mid-1920s. Those years were difficult for Savage. She moved to New York in 1921, and after early success completing an accelerated program at Cooper Union and garnering connections to W. E. B. Du Bois and other influential figures, she confronted a series of setbacks and tragedies. In 1923, her fellowship to attend the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France was rescinded after two White scholarship recipients refused to travel with a Black student. In 1924, her husband Robert L. Poston died, and she struggled to make ends meet, working as a laundress to support herself and her family while continuing to pursue her work as a sculptor. In 1927 she was mentioned along with Mills in a radio speech lauding “50 Notable Coloured Women.”38 There is no record of how Mills’s death registered with Savage, but when 150,000 people crowded Harlem’s streets for the funeral, it was a spectacle she could not have missed.39

Calls to create a memorial statue began at Mills’s funeral, and within weeks several influential Harlem figures, including the performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, founded the Florence Mills Memorial Association.40 Reports circulated in the Black press that the association would raise funds to erect “a permanent monument to the beloved star” and suggested it would take the form of a “life-sized statue” designed by the Italian American sculptor Antonio Salemme.41 It is unclear when Savage became attached to these efforts, but it is possible that Salemme, with whom she studied in the 1920s, facilitated her connection with the project.42 Perhaps Savage’s interest in the memorial arose during her time in the expatriate community of Black Americans in Paris, of which Mills had so recently been a part. Savage’s two years in Paris afforded her opportunities to explore African sculpture and history and sculpt complex portrayals of Black women, while contending with the tropes of French colonialism, as other scholars have illuminated.43 In September of 1931, an article in the New York Amsterdam News trumpeting Savage’s return from Paris stated, “it is believed that Miss Savage will execute the Florence Mills memorial,” and the Baltimore Afro-American reported, “she may execute a design for a memorial to the late Florence Mills before returning to France in the spring.”44

Savage’s proposed monument to Mills appeared at the same moment as her proposal for a monument to DuSable in the months after her return from Paris. The timing suggests the impact of what the art historian June Ellen Hargrove calls that city’s “open-air pantheon” of “statues to great men” on Savage’s plans to contribute to the public sphere in the next phase of her career.45 Yet little attention has been paid to the impact of the ubiquitous public statues of Paris on the sculptor’s work. She arrived in the city right after the end of “statuomania,” a half-century surge in monument building that saw not just the erection of more than 150 public statues between 1870 and 1914, but also a marked shift away from the commemoration of political and military leaders to “heroes in the arts and sciences.” Although monument construction slowed in the wake of World War I, between 1929 and 1931, when Savage lived and studied sculpture in Paris, it had by no means halted.46

Perhaps echoing the expansion of memorial subjects in Paris, Mills and DuSable appear as two strikingly different figures in Savage’s first efforts to shape an African American memorial landscape upon her return to the United States. DuSable represented a distant historical figure whose celebrated role in Chicago’s history positioned him as a figure akin to White male explorers, settlers, and “founding fathers” commemorated in American sculptural monuments.47 By contrast, Mills was a popular, contemporary female entertainer and an icon of the dynamic, political struggles for racial equality and reenvisioned roles for Black women. Taken together, DuSable and Mills indicate the flexibility and scope of Savage’s emergent monumental imaginary at the beginning of the 1930s — one grounded in the multiplicity of Black lives and inventive openness to the kinds of contributions and achievements worthy of commemoration.

Savage envisioned Mills as an elevated bust surmounting a pedestal with figures, deploying a popular structure for public statuary from early twentieth-century France, as the bust took prominence over full-length figures.48 Her design presents two versions of the pedestal figures. In one, four nude female figures adorn a column, perhaps inspired by Parisian monuments like that of Anton Mercié’s memorial to the poet and critic Armand Silvestre (fig. 5). In the other, an admiring child gazes up at the bust, like the pedestal figures representing the “recipient” or admirer of the subject’s contributions to society, a feature Hargrove has identified in the statues of Paris circa 1900.49


Anton Mercié, Armand Silvestre, 1906. Marble. Jardin du Cours-la-Reine, Paris. Reproduced from June Ellen Hargrove, The Statues of Paris: An Open-Air Pantheon: The History of Statues to Great Men (Antwerp: Mercatorfonds, 1989), 206. Courtesy of Mercatorfonds, Brussels

The portrait bust featuring Mills’s upward gaze and close-cropped hair not only adheres to trends in French statuary but also exemplifies Savage’s commitment to attentive, realistic portrayals of Black subjects. This skill garnered her important early commissions, including likenesses of Marcus Garvey (1922, location unknown) and Du Bois (1926, location unknown). It was a portrait bust of her nephew Ellis Ford, titled Gamin (fig. 6), that proved instrumental in earning her the Rosenwald fellowship to go to Paris.50 These works exemplify Locke’s famous call to reveal “the beauty which prejudice and caricature have overlaid” and give visual form to the psychological liberation, political empowerment, and cultural rebirth at the heart of the New Negro Movement.51 The art historian Deirdre Bibby claims that Savage was “among the earliest African-American artists to consistently and sympathetically use black physiognomy in her work.”52 Savage’s bust of Mills, however, was not envisioned as another mobile sculptural likeness that might be displayed in the Schomburg library or purchased by a patron; rather, it was intended to commemorate as a memorial monument in public space.


Augusta Savage, Gamin, ca. 1929. Hand-painted plaster, 17½ × 9½ × 8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2003.40, Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

In the context of the 1930s, Savage’s designs for a memorial to Mills are both utterly conventional and a bold challenge to the tradition of public statuary. By casting Mills as the subject of a stylistically conservative memorial statue — a form used in Europe and the United States almost exclusively for the veneration of White, male subjects — Savage’s proposal places Mills in the pantheon of significant persons while simultaneously interrogating the process of inclusion and exclusion that underlies pantheon building. The cultural historian TK Smith identifies a parallel gesture in Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War (fig. 7), which he argues “infiltrates the sculptural tradition of European war monuments with the body of a Black man.” Smith makes two critical points about this kind of intervention’s power and drawbacks. First, “If Wiley’s gesture is jarring, or if audiences are made uncomfortable, such an outcome reflects the scarcity of representation within historical narratives afforded Black Americans beyond those of slavery and oppression.” Second, there are shortcomings to this strategy, as it relies on the “very same visual symbols of a power used to oppress Black people.” Risking that critique, Wiley explicitly works, as Smith puts it, “within a sculptural language of power and significance constructed and perpetuated by the dominant culture.”53 Similarly, it is precisely the Eurocentric conventionalism of the monumental form Savage proposes that accomplishes the act of veneration radically imagined.


Kehinde Wiley, Rumors of War, 2019. Bronze with limestone base, 27716 × 25½ × 151316 ft. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Purchased with funds provided by Virginia Sargeant Reynolds in memory of her husband, Richard S. Reynolds, Jr., by exchange, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr., Angel and Tom Papa, Katherine and Steven Markel, and additional private donors, 2019.39. Photo: Travis Fullerton. Image © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts © Kehinde Wiley. Presented by Times Square Arts in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Sean Kelly, New York

The physical absence of Savage’s memorial to Mills today is twinned by another absence: there are no known extant recordings of Mills’s voice, even though musical recording was widespread by the early 1920s. A voice recording could be seen as the antithesis of a bronze and stone monument. As a contrasting form of posthumous presence, recorded sound is indexical, time-based, and immaterial, unlike the ossified and immobile sculpted statue. And yet the recorded voice and the public memorial are linked absences — both lasting, finite forms that could have been available to the future, existing in spheres that Mills did not occupy while alive. The music historian Stephanie Doktor has pushed against this loss by reading textual descriptions of Mills singing to consider the sonic properties of her voice, marked by its high range and pure timbre. In this effort to hear an unhearable voice, Doktor argues that music composed specifically for Mills challenged the boundaries between “music coded [as] ‘white’ and music coded [as] ‘Black,’” revealing that the sound of Mills’s voice worked to advance her position as a Black diasporic leader in the 1920s.54 Just as Mills’s own vocal stylings challenged racialized demarcations of sound, Savage’s border-dissolving design applied the codes of early twentieth-century European sculptural monuments to the task of memorializing Mills. In the case of Mills’s voice and Savage’s memorial, sounds and sculpture have the potential to undermine the reification of racial boundaries. Unrecorded and unrealized, their double absences remain as traces in the archive that can only point to a process of unmaking cultural constructions of racial and gendered difference that might have been.

War Mothers: Remaking the War Memorial

Unlike her monument to Mills, which applies a traditional style of portrait memorial to an unprecedented subject, Savage’s vision for commemorating African American military service in World War I presents an unconventional design: it features monumental figures of two Black women and a child. The design survives in photographs of two versions: a maquette from 1937 called After the Glory (fig. 8), and a large-scale model from 1943 titled War Mothers (fig. 9).55 Savage’s conception shifts focus from sacrifice on the battlefield to suffering on the home front and reimagines the sculptural tradition of mourning maternal figures to center Black women. Ultimately, its portrayal of suffering and solidarity among women poses a subtle challenge to the sculptural tradition of heroizing warfare and its memory.


“Her Work To Be Erected In New York,” Journal and Guide, December 18, 1937 (clipping), box 445, folder 3, Fisk University, John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library, Special Collections, Julius Rosenwald Fund Archives


Augusta Savage working on War Mothers, cover of Responsibility 1, no. 1 (October 1943), box 1, folder 4, Augusta Savage papers, Sc MG 731, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Despite decades of efforts by Black veterans, writers, artists, and historians, few works were made that met the African American communities’ needs for public commemoration after World War I. Savage’s memorial would have been one of them. As the art historian Jennifer Wingate demonstrates, the prototypic “doughboy” memorials that proliferated across the country to commemorate World War I featured a putatively generic figure of a “fighting, stead-fast, vigilant” infantryman who was a “white, American [‘type’],” like the generalized soldier of Civil War monuments before him.56 The absence of public sculptures portraying the bodies of Black servicemen is only one dimension of the profound erasure of the approximately 200,000 African Americans who served in Europe during the conflict, roughly 42,000 of whom saw combat.57 As the historian Chad Louis Williams illuminates, Black veterans’ contributions were erased and maligned in official and mainstream narratives of the war, dashing hopes that service in World War I would advance African Americans’ rights of citizenship and social inclusion.58 Savage used her proposed war memorial to interrogate Black exclusion from the cultural realm and memory. For her, this contribution extended the broader intellectual project of the moment, and it was also rooted in personal experience: one of Savage’s brothers served in France during World War I.59

After the Glory was not Savage’s first attempt to create a war memorial to African American military service. In 1928, Savage, along with Meta Warrick Fuller and other entrants, submitted models (now lost) to the competition to design the state-sponsored “memorial to the Negro soldier of Pennsylvania.”60 Ultimately, the selection commission chose the German American J. Otto Schweizer’s All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors, which was unveiled in 1934 in Philadelphia. Among the hundreds of World War I memorials in the United States, Schweizer’s monument and Leonard Crunelle’s World War I Black Soldiers’ Memorial (1928) in Chicago are alone in representing Black soldiers as sculptural figures. Both monuments, created by White sculptors, failed to put Black figures at the center of the designs. In the Philadelphia monument, African American soldiers in uniforms from previous American wars process around a large pedestal to converge at a White allegory of Justice; in Chicago, Crunelle’s design presented a white granite shaft with classicizing relief panels, and only criticism in the African American press led to the addition of a three-dimensional Black doughboy figure in 1936, eight years after the memorial was first dedicated.61

Savage’s imagined monument powerfully asserts that Black figures could be the central, venerated subjects of American war memorials. The photograph of Savage’s first version of the memorial design, titled After the Glory and published in three newspapers in December of 1937 (see fig. 8), shows her standing beside a tabletop model. It accompanied reports that the sculptural group was to be erected in Harlem in commemoration of the World War I service of the 15th regiment of the New York National Guard, later the 369th infantry regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters.62 The New York Amsterdam News noted Savage’s choice to represent three generations of a family, “a mother, a widowed daughter, and the latter’s small son,” and explained that the work would be seven-and-a-half feet tall, “cast in bronze and erected on a granite pedestal of equal height.”63 The maquette portrays the upright figure of a woman on whom another woman lays her head in a gesture of mourning. Between them a child looks outward, grasping the women’s robes in each hand. This imagery of familial intimacy and care is a striking contrast to statues of bellicose soldiers like the figure in Ernest Moore Viquesney’s mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy, who appears with a grenade in his raised right hand (fig. 10).64 After the Glory rejects the notions that war is men’s business and that the site to be memorialized in a public monument must be the battlefront, not the home front.65


Ernest Moore Viquesney, The Spirit of the American Doughboy, 1920. Bronze, 84 × 25 × 25 in. Erected in Wheeling Park, W. Va., 1931. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith. West Virginia Collection within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

In shifting focus from the putative “glory” of the highly decorated 369th regiment to the impact of the war on mothers, wives, and children who endure at home, Savage’s design spoke directly to the experience of the Harlem community. The members of the 369th were almost entirely from Harlem, and the regiment sustained more losses than any other American unit, totaling more than 1,400 casualties.66 Savage’s three figures would have resonated with many living in the community where this monument would have been built, especially women, so often the central actors in the labor of memory and mourning.67

Living in the aftermath of loss is not an experience bounded in time. Whereas Savage’s first title, After the Glory, suggests a sequence in which commemoration follows a heroic event, her second title, War Mothers, which accompanied the large-scale model (see fig. 9), is temporally open. As War Mothers, the proposed monument emphasizes a timeless relation of mothers to wars past, present, and, implicitly, future. It becomes both a backward-looking World War I memorial as well as a vivid evocation of the World War II home front at a time when families were suffering from soldiers’ deaths abroad. The generational triad of Savage’s design not only pictures the impact of loss across family members but also suggests that the role of mourning mother repeats over time, burdening one generation after another. This temporal dynamic is part of the future-oriented power of this unbuilt monument: What might it have meant to have this monument in Harlem for families who lost loved ones in wars to come?

In Savage’s later large-scale version, which towered over the sculptor (as seen on the cover of Responsibility, the journal of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc.), her conception of a war memorial that portrays Black women at monumental scale has evolved. A change in the position of the child, now facing inward, intensifies the design’s emphasis on the two female figures. From what is visible, their affects present a striking, even jarring, contrast. One is a recognizable icon of maternal suffering and mourning, her head bowed and her body curled inward by grief; the other represents a different kind of maternal presence as a towering, columnar, stoic figure gazing outward.

Savage’s design joins a small group of World War I memorial sculptures that used maternal imagery to make explicitly pacifist statements. Fuller took a symbolic approach to the threat of war to civilization in Peace Halting the Ruthlessness of War (fig. 11), created for the Women’s Peace Party. She renders a field of “cowering human beings,” including mothers and children being trampled by the warrior Death on horseback; a now lost female figure of Peace alights to halt his destruction. The art historian Renée Ater calls the small-scale work “a meditation on violence,” one that “also speaks symbolically to the violence of lynching and its impact on black families.”68 The Russian Jewish American sculptor Bashka Paeff also turned to allegory in her Maine Sailors and Soldiers Memorial, The Sacrifices of War (fig. 12). She presents a mother clutching her baby in the center of a swirling relief as two dying soldiers fall on either side of her as a “bold and maternal personification of Civilization,” in Wingate’s reading.69 Savage shares with Fuller and Paeff a conception of the war memorial as a referendum on the ethics of war. An undated photograph of Savage’s After the Glory shows that at one time it was described as “a war memorial and an argument for peace” (frontispiece).70


Meta Warrick Fuller, Peace Halting the Ruthlessness of War (renamed Ravages of War), 1917. Cast bronze, 13 × 16¾ × 9¼ in. Image courtesy of the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, Gift from the David C. Driskell Collection, 2008.04.012. Photo: Greg Staley. Image © Dr. John L. Fuller Sr. 2017


Bashka Paeff, The Sacrifices of War, 1924. Granite and bronze, 13 × 17 ft. John Paul Jones Memorial Park, Kittery, Maine. Photo: Libby Bischof. Courtesy of University of Southern Maine Digital Commons,

Of course, imagery of maternal sacrifice could also assert militant devotion to the war cause. Sculptural memorials like The Sacrifice (1922, Harvard University) by Malvina Hoffman echoed Michelangelo’s Pietà (1498–99, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City) as an icon of maternal virtue to advance a concept of “patriotic motherhood,” as Wingate argues.71 However, a mourning Black mother, even and especially in a war memorial, was an image that simultaneously carried the war-like experience of anti-Black violence in the United States. Savage would surely have known Richmond Barthé’s The Mother (fig. 13), displayed in New York in 1935 and 1939, which claims the imagery of Mary cradling the limp body of her adult son to construct a powerful indictment of racial terror lynching.72


Richmond Barthé, The Mother, 1935. Painted plaster. Destroyed. Photographic print, LC-USZ62-35356, Visual Material from the NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

What distinguishes Savage’s design from other contemporary portrayals of maternal figures in war memorials is her choice to portray not one but two mothers, thereby opening the possibility of their difference and intimacy. In refuge not in militant, sacrificial patriotism, Christian suffering, or even fierce protection of her living child, as in other pacifist works, but in another Black woman, her own mother, whose somber, colossal, upright presence is exceptionally powerful. This second female figure resonates not with bowed Marian archetypes but with images of women as pillars of families and communities. Architectonic strength is a particular paradigm for portrayals of Black motherhood in this period (and beyond), perhaps best exemplified in Sargent Johnson’s lauded sculpture Forever Free (fig. 14).73 A mere three-feet tall yet colossal, the work’s maternal body is columnar, even trunk-like, with the figures of two small children incised onto her rounded form. Like Savage’s towering figure, Forever Free is crowned by the mother’s slightly tilted head and upturned face — a gesture of attention or anticipation. Savage’s imagined memorial renders an experience defined by race and gender — to be a mother mourning the losses of the Harlem Hellfighters — as multiple, not monolithic. Savage’s design insists on multiplicity of experience for Black women and mothers confronted with violent loss — overcome with emotion and stoic, needing support and supportive, bound to the past and anticipating the future, and it envisions their solidarity.


Sargent Johnson, Forever Free, 1933. Paint and wood, 36 × 11½ × 9½ in. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Mrs. E. D. Lederman. Photo: Don Ross © Estate of Sargent Johnson

In the broadest possible sense, Savage’s unbuilt War Mothers proposes that a sculpture of two Black women might become a universal symbol of wartime loss; one can imagine its potential to invite identification from all mothers and families suffering in the aftermath of wars across time. Put another way, Savage’s design is an experiment in what the art historian Erica Moiah James has called the possibility of the “Black image as a conveyor of the values of universal humanism.”74 Without the realization of the monument in physical space, this possibility remains untested but not extinguished.

Present Absence

A final example of Savage’s thwarted attempts to create public monuments surfaces in her endeavor to design the James Weldon Johnson memorial, and archival traces reveal Savage’s efforts being erased in real time. After Johnson died in a car crash in 1938, Carl Van Vechten — the White critic, novelist, and photographer and patron of many Harlem artists — led the effort for a public memorial. He urged the city to move forward by pointing out that “no Negro memorial of any kind whatever exists at present on the island of Manhattan (which cradles the largest Negro community in the world.)”75 Without holding a public competition, Van Vechten’s memorial committee of distinguished men selected Barthé, a member of Van Vechten’s inner circle, to develop the design. Accusations of favoritism tainted the selection, and Savage was frustrated not to be chosen.76

Van Vechten was intimately familiar with Savage’s bust of Johnson created in the summer of 1938. Savage used Van Vechten’s photographs of Johnson to finish her rendering, and Van Vechten visited her studio at her invitation to view and photograph the finished piece.77 His photograph appeared in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life in October 1938 as an illustration for a poetic “Tribute to James Weldon Johnson,” and the image was identified in the table of contents as “photograph by Carl Van Vechten of a bust by Augusta Savage” (fig. 15).78 However, two years later Van Vechten simultaneously deployed Savage’s work to advance his case for the memorial and erased her from the proposal. In February 1940, Opportunity republished the photograph of Savage’s bust (fig. 16), this time to illustrate Van Vechten’s article on “The Proposed James Weldon Johnson Memorial,” but now it was captioned, “A Bust of James Weldon Johnson by Richmond Barthé.” Recognized and effaced in the same gesture, Savage was understandably outraged. She had her lawyer send a letter to Van Vechten objecting to the use of the mislabeled photograph in a “brazen build-up of Richmond Barthé as the sculptor to execute the proposed memorial.”79 Van Vechten’s lawyer responded the next day, blaming the error in the caption on the magazine’s editorial staff, claiming it was done without his knowledge and agreeing not “to publish, exhibit or use any photographs of her work in the future.”80


James E. Dykes, “O Black But Comely Bard, Sing On,” Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life 16, no. 10 (October 1938): 307


Carl Van Vechten, “The Proposed James Weldon Johnson Memorial,” Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life 18, no. 2 (February 1940): 38–39

Needless to say, the damage was done. The attribution error, whether intended or accidental, captures the way that Van Vechten shut Savage out of the memorial commission. Barthé’s design presented a singing Black male nude with shackled ankles, “not exactly Augusta’s style,” as her friend Hugh Samson put it.81 Robert Moses, the powerful New York City Park Commissioner, declared the design “unsuitable” for a public monument and, according to the art historian Michele Bogart, stalled the project until declining funds for the arts during World War II left the project moribund.82 Savage’s experience of being blocked and erased was just one instance in the broader processes of institutional power and allocation of resources that prevented the Johnson monument from being realized in any form. Its absence today is merely one example in a landscape of unbuilt monuments to Black Americans, works that were nonetheless conceived and desired at specific moments in the past. These works seek to serve the Black counterpublic sphere in the United States through aesthetic form and assert presence of Black counterpublics in the symbolic and physical space of the nation. They participate in what the historian Robin D. G. Kelley calls the “freedom dreams” of the twentieth-century Black radical imagination, immaterial visions offering “cognitive maps of the future, of the world not yet born.”83

Savage’s unrealized works manifest a possibility that the world could have been (and therefore could still be) made differently. To recognize their potency, their present absence, is to practice what the cultural theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay has recently theorized as “potential history,” scholarly “rehearsals in non-imperial thinking.” She writes: “Unlearning imperialism is asking not how it could be opposed tomorrow but rather how it was opposed yesterday, and before yesterday, such that the fragmented many can stand together outside of the temporality of progress that shapes the violence inflicted upon them.”84 Unbuilt monuments are reminders that the task of resistance and reinvention — of “imagining otherwise” — does not belong to the present alone.85 Savage’s unrealized public works are part of the movement to reshape the landscape of monuments in the United States for a more just future we have yet to see.


TESS KOROBKIN is assistant professor of American art in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I am grateful to Karen Lemmey for serving as my adviser for a predoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where this research began, and to the James Smithson Fellowship Program of the Smithsonian and the Luce Foundation/ACLS for additional support. For their insights and feedback as readers and interlocutors, I am grateful to Renée Ater, Jennifer Chuong, Erica James, Jennifer Raab, Audrey Sands, Jennifer Sichel, Robin Veder, Tess Wheelwright, Grace Yasumura, and the anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions of this argument were presented at the American Studies Association annual conference and the University of Maryland, College Park, and I thank the organizers and participants of those events for their questions and comments. For image permission assistance, I am grateful to Noriko Okada. Finally, profound thanks to my family, especially my mom, for supporting this project.

1. Augusta Savage to George Arthur, October 19, 1931, box 445, folder 1, Julius Rosenwald Fund Archives, Fisk University Special Collections and Archives, Fisk University (hereafter RFA).

2. Christopher R. Reed, “‘In the Shadow of Fort Dearborn’: Honoring De Saible at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933–1934,” Journal of Black Studies 21, no. 4 (June 1991): 398–413. Spellings of DuSable’s name vary (De Saible, du Sable, au Sable); the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, founded by Margaret Taylor-Burroughs in Chicago in 1961, is named for the same figure.

3. George Arthur to Augusta Savage, October 24, 1931, box 445, folder 2, RFA.

4. Savage was not alone in her effort to have DuSable’s contribution to the history of Chicago recognized at the fair. As a result of organizing efforts by the Black community in Chicago beginning in 1928, a replica of DuSable’s homestead was presented on the fairground in the first official act of commemorating his contribution to the city. See Reed, “‘In the Shadow of Fort Dearborn’”; and August Meier and Elliott M. Rudwick, “Negro Protest at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933–1934,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908–1984) 59, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 161–71.

5. Lisa E. Farrington, Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 105; and Augusta Savage to Grace Nail Johnson, March 21, 1936, box 28, folder 501, Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (hereafter Van Vechten Papers).

6. Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (New York: Pantheon, 1993), 177. The color footage produced by the muralist and designer Hildreth Meière of the 1939 New York World’s Fair shows the black sculpture as a stark exception among the white finishes of almost all the other sculpture commissions at the fair. See “Construction of a Frieze,” 1939, box 12, folder 31, Hildreth Meière papers, 1901–2011, bulk 1911–1960, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (hereafter Meière Papers).

7. Key overviews of Savage’s works and career include Jeffreen M. Hayes et al., Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman (London: D. Giles, 2018); Farrington, Creating Their Own Image, 100–107; Theresa Leininger-Miller, “‘Une Femme Sculpteur Noire’: Augusta Savage in Paris, 1929–1931,” in New Negro Artists in Paris: African American Painters and Sculptors in the City of Light, 1922–1934 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 2001), 162–201; and Deirdre L. Bibby, ed., Augusta Savage and the Art Schools of Harlem (New York: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, 1988).

8. Mabel O. Wilson, Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2012), 8, 3.

9. Although efforts to interrogate, prevent, and remove Confederate monuments have occurred since the post-Reconstruction era, The Southern Poverty Law Center’s special report “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy” (2016, updated edition February 2019),, marks the 2015 White supremacist massacre in Charleston as the turning point for officials in the South to begin removing Confederate monuments en masse. For an overview, see Audra D. S. Burch, “How a National Movement Toppled Hundreds of Confederate Symbols,” New York Times, February 28, 2022 (interactive feature), See also Liam Stack, “Charlottesville Confederate Statues are Protected by State Law, Judge Rules,” New York Times, May 1, 2019, A20; and Alan Blinder and Aura D. S. Burch, “Fate of Confederate Monuments is Stalled by Competing Legal Battles,” New York Times, January 20, 2019, A8.

10. Johnny Diaz et al., “How Statues are Falling Around the World,” New York Times, June 24, 2020 (updated September 12, 2020); and Paul M. Farber, Sue Mobley, and Laurie Allen, eds., National Monument Audit, Monument Lab in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2021,

11. Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 12, no. 2 (June 2008): 11–12.

12. For two examples of imagined American monuments that contribute new understandings of the histories of race and anti-Blackness, see Elizabeth R. Varon, “The Statue That Never Was,” John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History, University of Virginia, blogpost, July 6, 2020,; and Joan Marie Johnson, “‘Ye Gave Them a Stone’: African American Women’s Clubs, the Frederick Douglass Home, and the Black Mammy Monument,” Journal of Women’s History 17, no. 1 (Spring, 2005): 62–86.

13. Ruth B. Phillips, “Settler Monuments, Indigenous Memory: Dis-membering and Re-membering Canadian Art History,” in Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade, ed. Robert S. Nelson and Margaret Olin (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003), 281.

14. Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997), 4.

15. Farber, Mobley, and Allen, National Monument Audit, 4.

16. Hayes et al., Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman.

17. Bearden and Henderson, A History of African-American Artists, 180, 176.

18. Jill Lepore, Joe Gould’s Teeth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), 73–74.

19. Alain Locke, Negro Art: Past and Present (Washington, D.C.: Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1936), 77; and James Porter, Modern Negro Art (ca. 1943; repr., Washington, D.C.: Howard Univ. Press, 1992), 138. See Leininger-Miller, “Une Femme Sculpteur Noire,” 162–201; Leininger-Miller, “Modern Dancers and African Amazons: Augusta Savage’s Daring Sculptures of Women, 1929–1930,” in Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Amy Helene Kirschke (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2014), 157–72; Leininger-Miller, “‘Heads of Thought and Reflection’: Busts of African Warriors by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet and Augusta Savage, African American Sculptors in Paris, 1922–1934,” in Out of Context: American Artists Abroad, ed. Laura Felleman Fattal and Carol Salus (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004), 93–112; and Jeffreen M. Hayes, “Labor, Love, Legacy: Augusta Savage’s Art,” in Hayes et al., Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, 16–31.

20. T. R. Poston, “Augusta Savage,” Metropolitan Magazine (January 1935): 28, box 445, folder 3, RFA.

21. Lewis Mumford, “The Death of the Monument,” in The Culture of Cities (1938; repr., New York: Harcourt Brace, 1970), 438.

22. Karl Gruppe and Elizabeth Stover Gruppe, “Parks Monuments Conservation Crew Vintage Film, c. 1934 to 1937,” Official Website of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, accessed April 17, 2023,

23. Data derived from “Monument Study Set Search Interface,” in Farber, Mobley, and Allen, National Monument Audit.

24. “Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers: Report to the City of New York,” January 2018, 25–27, 20–22, The statues of Roosevelt and Sims were removed from public space in 2022 and 2018, respectively.

25. Kirsten Pai Buick, “Monu*ment*ality: Edmonia Lewis, Meta Fuller, Augusta Savage and the Re-Envisioning of Public Space,” in Hayes et al., Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, 40.

26. Buick, “Monu*ment*ality,” 52.

27. “To Live in Bronze,” New York Amsterdam News, February 17, 1932, 3, clipping, box 445, folder 2, RFA.

28. Bill Egan, Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2004). See Zakiya R. Adair, “Respectable Vamp: A Black Feminist Analysis of Florence Mills’ Career in Early Vaudeville Theater,” in “Black Girls’ and Women’s Resistance Strategies,” special issue, Journal of African American Studies 17, no. 1 (March 2013): 7–21; and Stephanie Doktor, “Finding Florence Mills: The Voice of the Harlem Jazz Queen in the Compositions of William Grant Still and Edmund Thornton Jenkins,” Journal of the Society for American Music 14, no. 4 (November 2020): 452.

29. “To Live in Bronze,” 3.

30. Romeo L. Dougherty, “Another Monument Promised: This Time for Miss Preer,” New York Amsterdam News, January 11, 1933, 8.

31. Jayna Brown, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 2008), 245. See also James F. Wilson, Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2010), 2.

32. “‘From Dixie to Broadway’: The Life Story of Florence Mills,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 24, 1927, 13; and Adair, “Respectable Vamp,” 12, 16, 19.

33. “Florence Mills Would Like to Play ‘Peter Pan,’” Pittsburgh Courier, December 25, 1926, A3.

34. Florence Mills, “Florence Mills Tells Londoners about ‘The Soul of the Negro,’” Pittsburgh Courier, January 8, 1927, A3.

35. “Florence Mills!” Pittsburgh Courier, November 12, 1927, A8.

36. Wilson, Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies, 126. Wilson reveals that Mills was also the subject of queer performance: in October 1923, a “female impersonator” performed as Mills, in drag and blackface, as part of the Greenwich Village Follies, exemplifying what Wilson identifies as the ambiguous and ambivalent role race, gender, and sexuality play in the theaters and nightclubs of the era (1–2).

37. Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (New York: W. W. Norton, 2020), 17, 331.

38. Farrington, Creating Their Own Image, 100–101; Leininger-Miller, “‘Une Femme Sculpteur Noire,’” 162–201; and Ruth R. Dennis, “New York Radio Speech Praises 50 Race Women,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 17, 1927, 3.

39. On Mills’s funeral as “the largest theatrical event in New York that season,” see Brown, Babylon Girls, 249–50.

40. On the efforts to commemorate Mills (without mention of Savage’s designs), see Rhona Justice-Malloy, “The Florence Mills Association vs. Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson: The Contentious Battle Over Flo Mills’s Monument,” Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance 2, no. 1 (August 2015): 1–14.

41. “Memorial,” New York Morning World, December 5, 1927, quoted in Justice-Malloy, “The Florence Mills Association vs. Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson”; and James Cannon, “The Feet of ‘Flo’ Were Still—and There Was Music,” Pittsburgh Courier, November 12, 1927, A1.

42. Leininger-Miller, “‘Une Femme Sculpteur Noire,’” 174–75.

43. Earnestine Lovelle Jenkins, “Augusta Savage in Paris: African Themes and the Black Female Body,” in Black Artists in America: From the Great Depression to Civil Rights (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2021), 98–118; and Leininger-Miller, “Modern Dancers and African Amazons,” 157–72.

44. “Miss Augusta Savage Finds No Bread Line in Gay Paris,” New York Amsterdam News, September 2, 1931, 3; and “Augusta Savage,” Baltimore Afro-American, September 12, 1931, 7. Savage’s sculpted bust of Mills is mentioned in “Posies for Miss Savage,” New York Amsterdam News, April 7, 1934, 8.

45. June Ellen Hargrove, The Statues of Paris: An Open-Air Pantheon; The History of Statues to Great Men (New York: Vendome, 1990).

46. Hargrove, Statues of Paris, 105–11, 236–306. Statuomania extended to other European cities in this period; see Penelope Curtis, Sculpture 1900–1945: After Rodin (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 37–70. The United States had its own post–Civil War statuary boom; see Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves.

47. Twenty-three of the top fifty individuals recorded in U.S. public monuments are U.S. presidents and generals; 916 recorded monuments mention “Pioneer,” over half of which (56%) were built after 1930. Farber, Mobley, and Allen, National Monument Audit, 19, 26–27.

48. Curtis, Sculpture 1900–1945, 42–43.

49. Hargrove, Statues of Paris, 206, 213.

50. “Augusta Savage, Interview at Studio, June 20, 1935 by (F.A.C.),” box 1, folder 2, Augusta Savage papers, Sc MG 731, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library (hereafter Savage Papers).

51. Alain Locke, “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” in The New Negro: An Interpretation (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925), 264; and Richard J. Powell, “Re-Birth of a Nation,” in Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997), 19.

52. Bibby, Augusta Savage and the Art Schools of Harlem, 9. See also Hayes, “Labor, Love, Legacy,” 29–30.

53. TK Smith, “Toward a Monumental Black Body,” Art Papers 43, no. 4 (Spring 2020),

54. Doktor, “Finding Florence Mills,” 451–79, quotes at 454.

55. The photograph of After the Glory is reproduced with the following three articles: “Negro Sculptor Who Will Do Group for World’s Fair,” New York Herald Tribune, December 9, 1937, 44, box 1, folder 13, Savage Papers; “Her Work To Be Erected In New York,” New Journal and Guide, December 18, 1937, 1, box 445, folder 3, RFA; and “Commission Sculptress to Design Group for 1939 New York Fair,” Cleveland Call and Post, December 30, 1937, 5.

56. Jennifer Wingate, Sculpting Doughboys: Memory, Gender, and Taste in America’s World War I Memorials (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2013), 48, 5.

57. “Remembering the Harlem Hellfighters,” Our American Story (blog), National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 9, 2018,

58. Chad L. Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2010), 187–222, 299–344.

59. New York World, May 20, 1923, clipping, box 2, Savage Papers, quoted in Patricia Hills, Modern Art in the USA: Issues and Controversies of the 20th Century (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2001), 80.

60. “Ask $50,000 For Monument,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 25, 1928, 10.

61. Wingate, Sculpting Doughboys, 49.

62. “Sculptress Commissioned to do Group: Work to Depict Music Gifts of Race to Nation,” New Journal and Guide, December 18, 1937, 4, clipping, box 445, folder 3, RFA; and “Negro Sculptor Who Will Do Group for World’s Fair.”

63. Dan Burley, “Augusta Savage Realizes Dream,” New York Amsterdam News, December 18, 1937, 24.

64. Wingate, Sculpting Doughboys, 59.

65. As Robert Slifkin puts it, the “largely masculinist tradition of warfare and its representation,” in The New Monuments and the End of Man: U.S. Sculpture between War and Peace, 1945–1975 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2019), 25.

66. “Remembering the Harlem Hellfighters.”

67. For a case study, see Christina Michelon, “The In/Visibility of Mourning: Seeing Labor, Loss, and Enslavement in an Antebellum Posthumous Portrait,” American Art 35, no. 2 (Summer 2021): 78–101.

68. Renée Ater, Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Meta Warrick Fuller (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2011), 33.

69. Wingate, Sculpting Doughboys, 142.

70. Hayes et al., Augusta Savage, 151.

71. Wingate, Sculpting Doughboys, 168.

72. Margaret Rose Vendryes, Barthé: A Life in Sculpture (Jackson: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008), 77.

73. For the context of Johnson’s Forever Free in his “extended series of images of African American women and children,” see Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, “Creating a New Negro Art in America,” Transition 108 (2012): 75–87, quote at 85.

74. Erica Moiah James, “Charles White’s J’Accuse! and the Limits of Universal Blackness,” Archives of American Art Journal 55, no. 2 (September 2016): 19.

75. Carl Van Vechten, “The Proposed James Weldon Johnson Memorial,” The Crisis 47 (February 1940): 41.

76. Vendryes, Barthé, 102–3; and Hugh Samson to Clyde Hart, September 24, 1989, folder 1, Hugh Samson letters relating to Augusta Savage, 1989, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

77. Augusta Savage to Carl Van Vechten, July 4, 1938, box 41, folder 763, Van Vechten Papers.

78. Table of contents and James E. Dykes, “O Black But Comely Bard, Sing On,” Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life (October 1938): 1, 307.

79. Oliver D. Williams to Carl Van Vechten, May 8, 1940, box 41, folder 763, Van Vechten Papers.

80. Arthur B. Spingarn to Oliver D. Williams, May 9, 1940, box 41, folder 763, Van Vechten Papers.

81. Samson to Hart, September 24, 1989.

82. Robert Moses to Walter White, March 30, 1942, Correspondence file 309 1843g, Public Design Commission of the City of New York, quoted in Michele H. Bogart, Sculpture in Gotham: Art and Urban Renewal in New York City (London: Reaktion, 2018), 182.

83. Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon, 2002), 6.

84. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (New York: Verso, 2019), 12, 20–21.

85. Avery Gordon cites the phrase “imagine otherwise” as a “folk theoretical statement,” elaborating, “We need to imagine living elsewhere before we can live there,” in Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1997), 5. More recently, Christina Sharpe has taken up this critical framework by suggesting “we might imagine otherwise from what we know now in the wake of slavery”; Sharpe, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 2016), 18. Thinking with Sharpe, the curator La Tanya S. Autry presented the multimedia exhibition Imagine Otherwise, an exploration of “boundlessness and fierceness of Black imagination and love despite ongoing anti-Black violence,” at the Museum of Creative Human Art, Cleveland, in 2021. See Autry, “A Black Curator Imagines Otherwise,” Hyperallergic, April 22, 2021.