By Lori Sadler
The myth of Emma Sansom’s role in the Civil War has led to a prideful indoctrination into the Lost Cause for students and residents of Gadsden, Alabama. Legend says, Sansom was only 16 years old when Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, in pursuit of Union General Streight, knocked on the door of her family farmhouse in Gadsden. He was looking for someone who could tell him how to get across Black Creek. Sansom not only told Bedford how to cross the creek but guided him to a nearby fjord. This small act earned her a monument and an important place in Confederate mythology. Emma Samson’s life became a symbol of Lost Cause nationalism that would be taught to generations of young people.
Not only was a monument erected to Sansom, but a local school was named after her, sitting along Sansom Avenue. School boards choose names for schools that reflect and shape civic values. By naming a school after a person, they are endorsing that person’s values. This seems to be a pointed way of creating loyalty among middle and high school-aged students, who will grow into adults with a sense of duty to their schools’ namesake.
To drive home this loyalty, on the opposite side of town, the monument sits in front of the University of the Alabama Gadsden, still pointing the students to where Black Creek once ran. Imagine being a student in Gadsden and either attending a school named after a Confederate legend or arriving on campus every day, seeing Emma Sansom on her pedestal pointing behind you. When you are surrounded by this myth during your formative years, it engrains a sense of pride in your “roots.” But is this the pride you want to represent?