No More Confederate Nostalgia in NOLA

Darryl Barthe I Race & Ethnicity I Commentary I May 10th, 2017

For the last few days, armed men in New Orleans have been protesting the removal of monuments to a failed, White Supremacist, republic. The workers tasked with carrying out the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans are working in flak jackets and with masks to obscure their identities since threats of violence have surrounded the plan to dismantle statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Pierre Beauregard. Many of the "protestors" at these monuments are not from New Orleans but have traveled from elsewhere in the South in order to express their disapproval of the City Council of New Orleans' decision to remove monuments to men who raised armies against their own country in order to defend slavery.

It would be easy to attribute this latest episode of white racial outrage to the rising tide of "populism" surrounding the ascent of Donald Trump to the Presidency. Yet, the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, in particular, had been the cause of controversy in 1989, 1993, and 2004. White Supremacy and racism wrapped in a veil of "heritage" is not new for Louisiana.

It would be even easier to connect the liberal insistence on removing these monuments to the Charleston Church Massacre. In June of 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans at a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because he believed black people "rape (white) women and are taking over our country." Roof wrapped himself in symbols of White Nationalism for pictures he posted of himself online before he went on his rampage and so, of course, liberals concluded that these symbols were problematic and, to be fair, these symbols are problematic. However, what is more problematic is that the United States has existed as a White Nationalist Republic for much longer than it has existed as a, nominally, representative democracy where all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law.

The American South, and specifically the Confederate States, lost a war that they fought in order to preserve slavery. That same war that the Northern States won was a war to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery in the South. After the Civil War, there was a mad rush to reconciliation that resulted in the reinstitution of "White Rule" in the Southern States through a regime of racial terror. The Battle of Liberty Place was one episode of racial terror and violence, inflicted on New Orleans by White Supremacist terrorists, and was fought between the Metropolitan Police Force and the White League, a White Supremacist paramilitary organization comprised mostly of Confederate veterans that served as a street army for white conservative politicians in New Orleans.

The Monument to the Battle of Liberty Place is a monument to Louisiana's "redemption" and the reinstitution of the old, antebellum caste order following the period of Reconstruction, when people of color in the South enjoyed the briefest semblance of the rights of citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution. Redemption of the South for White Rule meant the dispossession and disenfranchisement of non-white people. It also entailed a rearticulation of slavery through the criminalization of black life. Indeed, the legacy of that political program persists today in the form of a mass incarceration state that has extended the life of that "peculiar institution" of American slavery into the 21st century. And Louisiana, in particular, stands out as the state with the highest rates of incarceration in a country that incarcerates more people than any other in history. [1]

To be certain, that is the "history" and the "heritage" that is currently being reified and dignified through the demonstrations of armed men flying the Confederate battle flag ("the Stars and Bars"), in New Orleans tonight. They hide their threats behind a fig leaf of free speech, but the very history they are celebrating is a history of treason and lawlessness. They are a modern day White League (replete with token people of color, desperate for white approval) hinting at a willingness to resort to violence should anyone -even the elected government of the city of New Orleans-dare to abandon the trappings of a failed rebellion perpetrated by their ancestors, men who were wicked and ignoble, who betrayed their country and who fought and killed and died to preserve their right to buy, sell, rape and murder black people.

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Pierre Beauregard were all men willing to throw in their lot with a slave regime and do not deserve to be commemorated for that decision. To pretend as if these men deserve to be lauded for leading men into the jaws of oblivion, in defense of an evil regime ruled by men whose position was "thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery" is absurd, and it is long past the time that the people of New Orleans recognized the absurdity of it and put an end to it. [2] None of these men deserves to be elevated on a pedestal, and the question of celebrating the history of the Civil War is moot: the South remembers the heroes of the Civil War every 4th of July when they celebrate the birth of the Union.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu will face waves of criticism for his decision to remove these monuments. Those criticisms don't matter though, and Landrieu should not waste time arguing with his detractors in this matter. The fact that the men tasked with dismantling these memorials must hide their identities and conduct their work wearing Kevlar vests is a testament to the character of the people who oppose Landrieu's efforts in this. Those people deserve no reasoned consideration at all. Mitch Landrieu, the first white mayor of New Orleans since the Civil Rights era came to an end (the last white mayor was his father), was the person who had to get this done, and he did.


[1] "The peculiar institution" was the way that Kenneth Stampp described the American slave system in his book The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South (New York: A.P. Knopf, 1969).

[2] See Civil War Trust "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union," (accessed May 5, 2017)