New Orleans has been removing Confederate monuments erected after Reconstruction, and naturally, racists have been losing their minds over this. These monuments were put up during the Jim Crow Era to remind freed slaves that white people were still in charge across the South.
In fact, the Liberty Place marker specifically mentions white supremacy. The Battle of Liberty Place was fought between white supremacists, and a police and militia force led by the former Confederate general James Longstreet.
The latest Confederate monument to be removed was that of General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate general who ordered the first shots of the Civil War which were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. As much as CSA sympathizers who cling to the past and claim that it was the “War of Northern Aggression,” the South shot first.
Three out of the four Confederate monuments in New Orleans scheduled to be removed have been tossed into a city maintenance yard, which is where they belong. These pillars of white supremacy weren’t erected in memory of the men of the Confederacy, they were put in place to reinforce segregation and defy the federal government which pulled out of the South as part of a compromise to settle a contested presidential election in the 1870’s.
The last statue to be taken down is that of Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle. Beauregard is now gone, and so are the Confederate monuments to Liberty Place and Jefferson Davis. The Liberty Place and Jefferson Davis monuments are good riddance in my mind, but I’m a little conflicted about Lee and Beauregard, because they would have been furious that they were memorialized in the effort to assert white supremacy in the South.
Both Lee and Beauregard accepted the fact the Confederacy lost, and they moved on with their lives. Lee became the president of a prestigious law university in the town where I was born. Beauregard asked for a pardon from the Union, and went on to become an unrecognized figure for racial equality in New Orleans, even though he was initially a racist and fought for the cause to keep slavery intact.
Beauregard fought hard to preserve the Old South, including the institution of slavery. But after the war his reputation as a hero of the Confederacy was forever damaged by his outspoken work for human rights. As part of a coalition of prominent white and black New Orleanians, he not only argued to give black people voting rights but also pushed for integrated schools, public places and transportation.
“I am persuaded that the natural relation between the white and colored people is that of friendship,” Beauregard said in an address published in July 1873 in newspapers including The New Orleans Republican and The Daily Picayune. “I am persuaded that their interests are identical; that their destinies in this state, where the two races are equally divided, are linked together; and that there is no prosperity for Louisiana which must not be the result of their cooperation.
“I am equally convinced that the evils anticipated by some men from the practical enforcement of equal rights are mostly imaginary, and that the relation of the races in the exercise of these rights will speedily adjust themselves to the satisfaction of all.” (NOLA.com)
The people who are protesting the removal of Beauregard’s monument are angry because it shows him as a Confederate general, not as a man who changed his views based on the times and the circumstances that he faced after the war. Robert E. Lee has no place in Louisiana, because he never set foot in the state during the Civil War, but that fact is lost on the racist Confederate monuments supporters.
They are furious because the Beauregard statue was erected for the purposes of reinforcing white supremacy, rather than honoring a complicated playboy from New Orleans who tried to make amends for the past. If this was truly about heritage instead of hate, the angry protesters would be demanding the Confederate monuments be updated with new engravings with historical context.
I support Confederate monuments, but only to the men who accepted their defeat, and went on to do better things. They deserve a place in our history, and in our museums – to remind us of our country’s painful and complicated past.
Removing these monuments isn’t erasing our history, it is just dragging the South kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
FYI: If you would like to argue with me about the Civil War, I’ve been studying it for the past 30 years. Feel free to engage me on Twitter. I encourage you to bring your A-game.