There has been a huge fuss here in Louisiana over removing monuments to Confederates. Earlier this week, the monument for the Battle of Liberty Place was taken down, with police snipers on the rooftops because of previous death threats to contractors who bid on the project. One individual even had his luxury car set on fire, apparently for daring to place a bid.
Last time I checked, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. The Confederates lost, and the Union won, but that hasn’t stopped white supremacists from claiming that South will rise again.
The monuments to the Confederacy in New Orleans, and throughout the southern states, were mostly based on establishing white supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South. They weren’t meant to honor the men who died for the Lost Cause, they were meant to mock the federal government and remind freed slaves that the plantation owners were still in charge, not Washington.
The war ended over 150 years ago, yet Confederate flags still fly as if the war had ended in a draw, or as if the South had won. The area where I grew up in Virginia has the largest concentration of monuments and statues, but the lingering resentment and racism permeate the entire South, and beyond.
It will come as little surprise that the greatest number of these sites are in the states of the Confederacy, and to a lesser extent in border states. Nor is this a case of the Deep South being somehow behind the times, as opposed to their more forward-thinking neighbors. In fact, the upper South is dotted with rebel symbols. The greatest collection is in Virginia, with 223. That makes some sense, since Richmond served as the Confederate capital for most of the war; the commonwealth hosted more battles than any other; and the Confederacy’s two most famous generals, Lee and Jackson, were both Virginians. Texas, with 178, comes next, followed by Georgia, North Carolina, and Mississippi.
But a surprising number of sites are not in the South. A handful of symbols bear Confederate dedications in Northern States, including New York, which furnished more soldiers to the Union war effort and saw more of them die than any other state, and California, where schools in San Diego and Long Beach are named for Robert E. Lee. (Illinois, the land of Lincoln, has none.) (The Atlantic)
Robert E. Lee would be appalled by these monuments. After the war was over, he pleaded for unity and went on to work in higher education in the few years he had left on this earth.
Removing these monuments to the Confederates isn’t whitewashing history, as many white supremacist sympathizers want to claim. There is a place for them, but they belong in museums, not in public squares.