New Orleans To Remove Four Confederate Monuments

Earlier today the New Orleans city council voted 6 to 1 to remove four Confederate monuments. The vote was preceded by a lengthy and heated public forum that you can see here. I decided early this morning to write up some thoughts assuming that the vote would go the way it did. You can read my essay at the Atlantic.

Regardless of your position, a good case can be made that this decision is the final act of our Civil War sesquicentennial.

52 comments… add one
  • For anyone who wants to cleanse the landscape of monuments to the Confederacy, the murder of those nine people in Charleston is the gift that keeps on giving. Mitch Landrieu and people like him are clearly going to ride that horse as far as they can.

    The people of New Orleans and their government have every right to alter their cityscape as they see fit. But like the removal of the battle flag from the monument in my own state of South Carolina, this symbolic move will allow people to pat themselves on the back and feel self righteous, and then things will go right back to where they were. The crime rates will not change, the unemployed will continue to be unemployed, and the politicians will look for the next issue to divide and distract the voters.

    I only hope someone steps up and finds a suitable place to display these works of art, which are over a century old at this point and should be preserved.

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    • For anyone who wants to cleanse the landscape of monuments to the Confederacy, the murder of those nine people in Charleston is the gift that keeps on giving.

      The problem with this is that it fails to acknowledge that calls to remove these monuments go back decades in the city of New Orleans.

      The crime rates will not change, the unemployed will continue to be unemployed, and the politicians will look for the next issue to divide and distract the voters.

      I just love this argument. It assumes that the motives of the individuals and organizations responsible for these monuments somehow how stood outside of all the petty politics and concerns of local government.

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      • “The problem with this is that it fails to acknowledge that calls to remove these monuments go back decades in the city of New Orleans.”

        I don’t doubt it, but regardless, the vote to remove them didn’t take place decades ago, and it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

        The reason that this attempted purge of all things Confederate is different and objectionable is because it’s based on a lie. The lie is that everyone who waves the Confederate flag is just like Dylann Roof, and is either a closet racist or an overt racist like Roof. I’ve seen opinion pieces that state as much, and while I’ve only recently discovered this blog, It’s pretty clear that the same opinion prevails here as well.

        I see that you’ve taught history in Virginia, but beyond that I don’t know what your experience is when it comes to the South. I grew up here, and in my experience the vast majority of people who have any opinion of the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia simply know it as “the Confederate Flag”, even though there are obviously many other Confederate flags. To them, it’s just “the flag of the South”. It’s associated with southern rock bands. It’s worn on belt buckles. You might fly it because you’re a ‘rebel’. It has no racial connotations at all, it’s just a piece of the background culture. That was my experience growing up. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the flag or its history, though I was aware that it originated in the Civil War. To the extent that I was aware of the Klan, I probably knew they waved it around, but they were just a bunch of idiots in white sheets, so they didn’t rate much consideration. When the NAACP made a big deal about the flag flying over the SC statehouse in 2000, my reaction was to drive down to Columbia and see it before they took it down, because I had no idea it was up there.

        That’s a common experience down here, or it has been in the recent past. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so I missed the turmoil of the 1960s. I might look at things differently if I was a decade older. Even so, it’s only in recent years that I’ve become aware of all the larger historical and racial issues surrounding the flag. That may sound impossible to anyone well-versed in the civil war and the history of the flag, but plenty of people have nothing more than a casual familiarity with it.

        Dylann Roof is an outlier. So is that crazy guy who is terrorizing his neighbor. There are racists who wave the flag, no doubt. No one would deny that. But there are plenty more who aren’t. That’s why watching so many politicians use Dylann Roof and his actions to engage in a little historical purging bothers me so much.

        Just to end on a different note, I only found this blog maybe a month or two ago. I’m enjoying browsing through it, though I don’t always agree with your perspective. There’s some good historical information here, and you’ve clearly put a lot of time and effort into your writing, so well done.

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        • Thanks for the follow-up. Glad to hear that you find the site worth your time.

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        • I agree so much with what you have to say, H.S. Anderson.

          This purging is because the anti-flag people now have a face and nine dead bodies to use to get what they want across.

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          • Would that be due to the desired removal of racist symbols, symbols of treason, or a combination of the two?

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            • You are not as clever as you think you are. Mr. Dick.

              These monuments are a part of Civil War history and memory, and whether you like it or not, they are already Federally protected. So tone down the liberal diatribes, if you will.

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              • They are not protected by the Federal government.

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                • I’m not too sure on the legalities of it in Louisiana, so far I am aware that these statues are on the NRHP. I’m consciously more aware of the reality with Forrest’s grave, because he does have protected veteran status.

                  If so, I’ll need to be corrected.

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                  • Veterans status has nothing to do with it. You are misinformed.

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                  • The monuments in New Orleans are not graves. As for Forrest, I’m not aware of any law protecting veterans’ gravesites, except perhaps in a national cemetery. Please provide a citation.

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                  • Forrest is not a protected veteran. One would had to have been a member of the United States Armed Forces and he was definitely not a member. So federal laws do not apply to him. State laws recognizing Confederate veterans might if such laws exist. Of course, you should realize that the issue is kind of weird in his case since he is being returned to the place he wanted to be buried at and was originally buried at.

                    Consider why his remains were moved from the original location and you have your answer as to the whole situation.

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                    • Well, Kevin and Mr. Dick.

                      Here is what I do know.

                      Forrest is protected, not only has Protected Veteran Status, no matter what kind of hair-splitting you are employing to dodge around that fact, his grave-site is on the NRHP, he is protected by State Law, the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013 ensures that. And, they also need permission of the family to move the statue and bodies, and so far Forrest’s descendants have opposed any removal.

                      It’s an established fact that Confederate Veterans were given the same protections as their Union counterparts. Andy Hall and Sue Sturgis are certainly far from an unbiased source, I’m simply “misinformed” because I don’t subscribe to your politics. And no word twisting on that part is going to sway the facts, our Federal government gave CS veterans the same protections and benefits. There is evidence out there of the government paying Confederate pensions.

                      And on these monuments, there is a very good chance the state of Louisiana may intervene.

                    • Well, you just keep telling yourself this. 🙂

                    • Darin writes:
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                      Forrest is protected, not only has Protected Veteran Status. . . .

                      ____

                      I have no idea what “Protected Veteran Status” is.

                      ____

                      he is protected by State Law, the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013 ensures that.

                      ____

                      The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act — of 2014, not 2013 — says not a word about gravesites. The monument over the graves is certainly at issue, but that legislation does not cover graves — Forrest’s or anyone else’s.

                      ____

                      It’s an established fact that Confederate Veterans were given the same protections as their Union counterparts.

                      ____

                      Confederate veterans were extended the same VA benefits as Union veterans in the late 1950s. But there is no provision of a blanket protection of Union veterans’ graves in that.

                      ____

                      Andy Hall and Sue Sturgis are certainly far from an unbiased source,

                      ____

                      My biases are irrelevant; the law says what is says, and nothing more.

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                      our Federal government gave CS veterans the same protections and benefits.

                      ____

                      Again, I ask you to cite the federal law that provides protection from disturbance of Union or Confederate graves generally. Show me the actual words. You may think of this as ‘hair-splitting,” but the exact text of this law, or any other, is important.

                    • Darin, I would suggest you do some research before responding to Andy’s post. So far, everything you have claimed has been incorrect. You are stating your opinions, but those are not rooted in fact.
                      I’ve known Andy and Kevin through their work for several years now and they know what they are talking about. I may disagree with them from time to time, but that is a matter of opinion on some issues and not about factual information. The veteran issue has been covered in depth.

              • That was toned down as several of Kevin’s readers can attest to.

                How is the Liberty Place monument in any way a Civil War monument? I would love to see that answer.

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                • I would suggest that it is for the reasons I mentioned in the article.

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                  • I disagree with some of your assessment on that and agree with some of your assessment on that. It will matter to a very large extent what lens one is using when looking at it. This is going to be one of those situations where there is no correct answer and no wrong answer due to the subjective nature of the interpretive process.

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          • They do, and the thing to remember is that the Confederacy is just the low-hanging fruit when it comes to purging history. We’ve also seen attacks on Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson this past year, in which they are reduced to nothing more than a man who committed whatever their worse sin is supposed to be, and any good they did is dismissed. The same standards being applied to the Confederacy will be applied to the broader scope of American history and to the foundations of our republic. This isn’t a theory, it’s already begun.

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            • There is a major difference in the “attacks.” First, historians are correcting the historical record on the Civil War. For a long time the mythology of the lost cause was seen as the predominant interpretation of the conflict. That was built on lies and not facts. So removing the Confederate flag and monuments to the confederacy involves asking why those were erected in the first place. Why do people want to celebrate men who were traitors to the United States? When we look at the reason for many of the monuments we find white supremacy as the major reason.

              As for Jackson and Jefferson, historians are not attacking them. The attacks are actually good because they are prompts for expanded looks and discussion on these men and what they did. It shows the complexity involved with our understanding of history.

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              • You can believe there is a difference if you like, and certainly there are different people with different motivations involved. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that United States history is safe. If Thomas Jefferson can be reduced to nothing more than a “rapist” or slave owner, and all his accomplishments ignored, so that college students demand his statue be removed from the University of Missouri, then no founding father is safe. I see very little difference between the demands that Jefferson’s statue be removed for the sin of slavery and the demands that anything Confederate be removed for the same reason.

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                • We live in a democracy where individuals are free to come to terms with the past in their own way. Jefferson himself emphasized the importance of each generation re-thinking its system of values.

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                    • The first line of the article:

                      To residents of New Orleans and the state, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is responsible for the purging of history which will soon take place in the Big Easy, just as the New Orleans City Council approved Landrieu’s plan last week to remove four historical monuments.

                      What nonsense. The city council voted to remove the monuments. They represent their constituents in New Orleans and are answerable to them during the next election cycle. History is not being purged. That is impossible. As I understand it these monuments will hopefully find a new home in a museum setting where they can be interpreted.

                • Actually, if you would take the time to speak with people at MU you would find the reality is not what is in the media. The post-it notes are a respectful way of initiating a dialogue which has begun and is educational for the students. Jefferson is being presented to them as many things which conflicts with what many students were taught in the K-12 system which is heavily dependent on Great Man historiography (not all cases though).

                  They are looking for answers and finding them. That is part of the educational process. To present Jefferson as a man of great ideas only is just as wrong as presenting him as a slave owner only. He was both and that illustrates the point about history being a foreign country. Right there you can easily see the beginning of a conversation on Jefferson.

                  If you do not see a difference, then that means it is time to learn the difference. That is what is taking place at MU. No, TJ’s statue is not going anywhere but where it is at. There is a massive difference between him and the traitors who fought against the United States of America. They both should be remembered, but as what they were, warts and all.

                  In many ways, the people who fought for the Confederacy were rejecting the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. Such is the idealism of Jefferson that everyone tries to claim him for their own ends.

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                • If you want to learn more about Jefferson, try the Age of Jefferson course over on Coursera which was created with Peter Onuf, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor, Emeritus at the University of Virginia. It is an excellent course, self-paced, and completely free.
                  https://www.coursera.org/learn/ageofjefferson

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                  • I will have to check it out. Thank you.

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    • The monuments should stay and Americans should be force to deal with their past history.

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      • They are dealing with it, but apparently not in the way that you approve.

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  • Glad to see you back in The Atlantic, Kevin.

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    • Same here. Thanks, Andy and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

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    • I agree Andy. And the Comment “stream” is intense!

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      • Yeah, comment threads like that get to the point where you either have to ignore them altogether, or commit to spending days at a time doing nothing but respond to them. While they certainly give people an opportunity to become “part of the discussion,” I’m not sure they actually add much depth or understanding to the issue, compared to an old-fashioned letter to the editor.

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  • Hi Kevin,
    When i listened to your interview on the Voice of Russia Radio program about Silas Chandler, I recall you said you didn’t want to see a single Confederate monument come down. Have you changed your opinion on this?

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    • Hi Bryan,

      The events of this past summer, my trip to Europe and a host of other factors have certainly shaped my thinking. Here is a list of posts that tracks that thinking. I am not trying to ignore your comment. Happy to respond to a follow-up question.

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  • The monument to “the battle of Liberty Place” should be ground into dust and then used as mix for new concrete to re-pave some city sidewalks. The other three monuments might go in to museums.

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    • I would hate to see that happen. The Liberty Place monument – more so than the other three – belongs in a museum. Happy Holidays, Jim.

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  • “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness…when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

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    • Thanks for passing this along. It’s nice to be back in the Atlantic.

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  • Kevin,

    Doesn’t Longstreet deserve mention in correcting Lost Cause mythology? He, an ex-Confederate general, led the New Orleans Metropolitan Police in the initial fight against the White League. How many members of the general public know that?

    Also, Sheridan is definitely an admirable leader in protecting black political rights in New Orleans, and in fighting the KKK. However, he is much less admirable in that parallel universe in which the Indian Wars took place. It was under Sheridan’s orders that the Battle of Washita River, also known as the Washita massacre, was fought. Black Kettle was shot in the back during this battle, finishing Chivington’s work at Sand Creek. Here we have two flawed men, both acting heroically and ignobly at different points in their careers. It seems that the sooner we stop looking for a heroic narrative, the closer we might actually get to one.

    Enjoyed your article, and agreed with you on most points.

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  • A fine post, Kevin, and good article in the Atlantic. Like many Sesquicentennial celebrations, Changed attitudes towards monuments seem to show a large change in the way the Civil War is remembered.

    I think there’s a strong argument that public memorials should represent history and values that current residents honor. The more I find out about Sam Houston, for example, the more I admire his courage and stance at several points in Texas’ history, while recognizing that some of his shenanigans are copied by some present-day Houstonians. So I’m glad to see his statue remain, pointing the way into Hermann Park.

    I can understand New Orleaneans’ desire to get rid of the liberty place nuisance. What does the city propose to do with the other 3 monuments? Remove them to a museum, grind them into dust or what? The former sounds better as a way to preserve what the city’s powerful used to think.

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    • Thank you.

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    • I can understand New Orleaneans’ desire to get rid of the liberty place nuisance. What does the city propose to do with the other 3 monuments? Remove them to a museum, grind them into dust or what?

      ____

      Mayor Landrieu has said that they should be removed to a museum or park. I don’t think any final decisions have been made.

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  • Will putting them in a museum be the end of it? I’ve read a copy of an NAACP letter sent to an acquaintance of mine where the NAACP official who wrote the letter wanted no funding for museums or Civil War battlefields. He considered all of that wasted money and wanted it all gone so the money could be spent elsewhere. Having seen that, I’m always suspicious of the “it belongs in a museum” argument. Because I suspect that once all of these flags and statues and other memorials are in museums that the museums will be next to be singled out for purging.

    Don’t forget Richard Rose, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP calling for Stone Mountain to be sandblasted. At least he’s upfront about the end game.

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    • You give the NAACP too much influence.

      Because I suspect that once all of these flags and statues and other memorials are in museums that the museums will be next to be singled out for purging.

      This concern makes little sense to me. Museums around the country and beyond contain all kinds of artifacts that are deemed controversial for one reason or another. The sky is not falling.

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    • If anyone has been singling out actual history for purging or cutting funding to museums it would be one of two groups. The first is a certain group of legislators in this country who want to cut government spending on everything but their own special interests in certain sectors such as the defense sector. They seem to have targeted funding for historical interests for several reasons, one of them being they don’t like history that is based on facts and not opinions.

      The other group is similar to the first group in that they oppose history that is not presented in a way that caters to their beliefs. Neither group have any actual historians working with them and in fact seem to reject what historians have developed through extensive research.

      I find it very interesting how these groups reject facts that conflict with their beliefs.

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  • ” The first is a certain group of legislators in this country who want to cut government spending on everything but their own special interests in certain sectors”

    That’s the M.O. of every politician of every political party that’s ever existed. 🙂

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    • Yep, but why does one party continue to assault higher education, liberal arts degrees, and historical institutions such as museums? At the same time they have negatively impacted K-12 education. There is a trend there.

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  • This point of view might be worth considering, especially since the opinion piece is all about how we remember history.

    http://thehayride.com/2015/12/bayham-in-new-orleans-history-is-actually-fighting-city-hall/

    “Protecting historic monuments has nothing to do with honoring the Confederacy; it is about respecting generations removed who carried the city forward, preserving historic public art, and being cognizant of the perils of utilizing power to “renew” society through burning existing history in order to create “new” history.

    Times change. People change. Cities change. And the law is changed to reflect those shifts.

    History, even if inconvenient and at times unpopular and unfashionable, belongs to everyone: present, future, and past.”

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