The removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans last spring constitutes the most significant change in a major city’s commemorative landscape. What stands out to me, however, is not the removal of any one monument, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s address that accompanied the removal of the Lee monument on May 19.

I’ve never heard anything quite like it for an elected official. Landrieu’s speech was bold and cut to the core of the Lost Cause and its place in reinforcing the long history of racism and white supremacy. I can’t speak to whether the speech was somehow a political calculation. I would like to think that the thoughts expressed were sincere.

Over the past few years we have witnessed a new crop of public leaders who are much more willing to speak out on the place of Confederate iconography in public spaces. It speaks to changing demographics throughout parts of the former Confederacy, but it also reflects a dramatic shift in Civil War memory that no longer ignores the place of race, slavery, and emancipation in the war and its aftermath.

Consider Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia. In a recent debate she was asked directly what she would do about Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, as well as other Confederate monuments throughout the state. Abrams is direct and leaves her voters with no question as to her position, but it is the emotion and personal experience that infuses her response that makes this worth sharing.

I don’t know enough about Georgia politics to be able to comment on whether her position on Confederate monuments will resonate with enough voters to put her over the top. But even if it doesn’t, the fact that Abrams is willing to make such a bold and sincere statement in this race suggests that the shift in hearts and minds that has brought us to this point will likely continue.

About Kevin Levin

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27 comments add yours

  1. On Georgia politics,
    Candidate Abrams is not going to any higher office.
    Georgia law that protects Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Park and Confederate Monuments was given us by Democrat Governor Roy Barnes, as a deal for removing the old State Flag.
    He subsequently lost 2 attempts at reelection and removed from consideration of the vice president spot on the John Kerry ticket.
    Speaker of the House Ralston has already started numerous times any Monument removal legislation is D.O.A.

    • You may be right, but than again, that is not the point that I was making in the post.

    • Things change over time. I do believe people once stated that the CBF would never come down in South Carolina. In case you haven’t noticed, it came down. While Georgia law currently protects monuments to traitors and white supremacists, that will eventually not be the case some day in the future. The people of the nation are rejecting the lost cause lie and the symbols of racism, tyranny, and oppression which Stone Mountain represents.

      • Had that shooting in Charleston never happened Dick, the flag would still be there.

        Nikki Haley if you recall defended the flag until she had a 2 day “change of heart” (CEO’s complained).

        But keep on your double downs Dick. We’ll get Trump again in 2020, Forrest’s statue will go back up. And maybe we’ll get a Pence presidency out of it.

        I went out and bought a CBF and a Mississippi state flag because of cucks like you in academia.

        • Glad you bought them. The folks in China appreciate your business. Regardless of your opinion and beliefs, the facts are not changing and neither is history. You and the other fervent believers in the lost cause lie can scream all you want, but you do not have facts to support your claims.

          That’s the whole problem with the lost cause. It is a fabrication that was created to support white supremacy. It ignores the facts in favor of sustaining a set of beliefs based upon racism. No matter what you want, history happened as it happened, and nothing you scream will change that. The simple, plain, and honest truth is that the facts do not support the lost cause at all.

          Now, you can call me a cuck all you want. I don’t care. At the end of the day, I am teaching history using facts and you are making a fool of yourself by making false claims which are based on a racist lie. Since you choose to not use your real name, that tells me even more about you.

          Have a nice day.

  2. And you are somehow designating Mitch Landrieu as a great mayor because he took down those mean old Confederate statues?

    His merits as a mayor have otherwise been horrible. The city’s infrastructure has degraded to Katrina-era levels of disregard. Look at the flooding that happened last summer, the city threw in more money to stick it to deplorables and put Mitch Landrieu on the map than to maintain the drainage pumps for the city.

    They were anything but sincere. Mitch is looking for a cushy job under the next Democratic president.

    • And you are somehow designating Mitch Landrieu as a great mayor because he took down those mean old Confederate statues?

      You are putting words in my mouth. I said nothing in terms of evaluating Landrieu’s term as mayor. I don’t live in New Orleans and am not in a position to offer that sort of judgement.

      • Kevin,

        Odd, isn’t it, that both comments have nothing to do with the topic of your post here, isn’t it?

        It almost seems like a modern rendition of the old Confederacy itself and the institution of slavery. A desperate attempt to resist the future and deny history.

        Hang in there, as there are people who actually listen and understand.

        Sincerely,
        Neil

        • maybe we should tell the neo-c’s that the statues were taken down because the men portrayed supported high tariffs. That seems to be their hot-button issue since they claim that’s what started the war that killed so many people….

      • With respects to Unionblue (Neil) beneath me. I’ll have to reiterate my point again since you far leftists love to conflate things.

        This whole mess started over the flag 3 years ago. Myself, among many others, correctly conflated that the statues would be targeted next. And, hey, guys like me wound up being right

        On your blog alone Levin, I’ve seen everything from Russian Bots and other current DNC talking points be used to “tear down” pro-statue arguements. On your own blog you treated the statue removal in Durham as if it was some legal procedure, and not the vandals of the IWW (International Workers of the World, ya know, Communists) violently tearing it down.

        There isn’t anything “woke” or tolerant about removing these statues. It’s all about sticking it to Der Drumphenfuhrer and the evil white southerners.

        • On your blog alone Levin, I’ve seen everything from Russian Bots and other current DNC talking points…

          I am part of the Deep State. Don’t tell anyone. 🙂

          • Dear Mr. Bartlett,

            Consider this to be your final comment on this blog.

            CWM

  3. There is no “problem of Confederate monuments, ” there is a problem with people who disregard our Confederate history.

  4. In terms of politics in Georgia, the Abrams vs Evans campaign is uninspiring. Abrams has the endorsement of national/federal members of the DNC (including the two Dem. Congressmen from GA) and Evans has the endorsement of nearly (save one) every state Democrat in the legislature. Both candidates lack the “it” factor to take them an aw inspiring candidate in their own party let alone the state election. Abrams will likely be the Dem. nominee due to her endorsements from interest groups and the national party. Politics as usual.

    But it doesn’t really matter – the government is entrenched in the GOP despite 1/4 of Georgians living in poverty and most legislation having a negative impact on them. The current front-runner is Casey Cagle. His political career is “as long as I tote the party line, one day I’ll be the next guy in line…” Basically to win an election here, be a Republican and breathe.

    As someone likely to vote Dem. for the foreseeable future in GA, I commend Abrams for her steadfast stance that is both clear and engaging on this particular issue. However, that’s pretty much where it ends. I wish Abrams was as inspiring on issues. Frankly I don’t really care about her stance on Confederate Monuments when her work as a state politician hurt the chances of lower-income students to afford college.

  5. Mr. Levin,

    The other, related problem which we face here as historians though is what we are facing in terms of the monuments as history. I attended a lecture by a historian (whom I believe you know personally) in the Autumn who advocated the anti-intellectual position that we should, as a society, embrace the destruction of these monuments because of what they represent and because of their role in the post-American Civil War oppression of African American citizens. I hope that you would agree that this is not a reasonable position. As you are aware, I would vote to remove any monument commemorating the Confederacy within my local jurisdiction, but that does not mean that it is acceptable for us to deprive future generations of monuments which themselves are historically valuable. We must make sure that the monuments can be preserved and utilized by future historians, whether that is in a museum setting or in some other safe environment.

    Several have already been defaced or destroyed, so this is no longer a prospective concern. Rather, it is one that we are facing right now and one that we cannot ignore. If we do not move to make sure that these monuments are preserved, they may not be. It is imperative that we, as historians and as students of history, take active steps to make sure that that does not happen.

    Nathan Towne

    • Hi Nathan,

      I have stated more than once that it is up to local communities to decide what is to be done with their monuments. My hope, however, is that we can preserve them in some fashion so that they can be used for educational purposes. Obviously placing them in a museum setting would be ideal, but that is unrealistic given costs. Perhaps a monument park could be created, but that would also be very difficult for a number of reasons.

      At the same time I don’t think that historians, even when speaking collectively, have much influence on this debate.

      • Hi,

        I understand that you have not advocated the destruction of monuments. Furthermore, I recognize that the historical community does confront serious challenges in terms of influencing the course of events. However, I would simultaneously say that that does not abrogate the responsibility that the historical community has to the preservation of history and it is important that we take steps to advance this necessity in the public mind. Furthermore, your understanding that the decision as to what to do with the monuments rests in the hands of those living within the local communities in which they reside has not deterred you from nonetheless publicly calling for their removal. I don’t see why you cannot use your platform to advocate the latter concern with the same zeal in which you have pursued the former.

        Also, I would argue that this is actually the more serious issue because as long as a monument stands in a public setting, it can always be removed. Once it has been destroyed, it is gone. Hence, in the former case, I do not think that there was urgency in the same way in which it exists in the latter.

        Nathan Towne

        • I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t see my role when speaking in public to tell people what to do with their monuments. I see my role as giving them the tools to be able to think historically about these artifacts.

      • You may ultimately be right that historians and the larger historical community will be unsuccessful in influencing the public mind as to the importance of preservation. I would like to think though that you would agree that when it comes to something as important as preservation, the historical community has a responsibility and a duty to try.

        Nathan Towne

        • Let’s remember that very, very few Confederate monuments have been destroyed. Those that have been removed are in storage and for the time being safe.

          • It is true that most of the monuments which have been removed to this point have not been destroyed. Yet, some have and trying to influence the discussion in a way that reduces the risk that more are destroyed seems to me to be a responsibility of the historical community.

            Say, for example, that the original Birth of a Nation were a lost film and was found tomorrow in a public municipal collection. The people of the jurisdiction, due to the film’s themes and content, decide not to release it and instead elect to keep it in storage until they could decide whether or not they were going to destroy it. Word of this gets out and it becomes clear that they are, in fact, in possession of the only extent copy. Would we not have a responsibility to publicly call upon them not to destroy it? I think that we obviously would have that responsibility.

            Lastly, I have little doubt that there are museums across the country who would take on the monuments, provided that they would be able to prepare themselves to take them on. Long-term, I doubt that that would be a serious problem.

            Nathan Towne

  6. It’s an idiotic thing to do, but I read the comments before I actually read the blog post or watched the video (I did say “idiotic”) One would have thought that Ms. Abrams was directly advocating for the destruction of the monuments, rather, she discussed something far more important: their actual symbolism of “celebration” rather than “commemoration”. For the enlightened, this may not be a new concept, but for a majority of us, we need to be reminded that for most of our lives, were led astray of this truth. Whether or not Ms Abrams is elected, celebrated, excoriated, or otherwise, perhaps someone with a slightly open mind just heard this harsh reality about the monuments for the first time, and he/she will walk away with a whole new perspective on this issue.

    One can hope.

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