Resistance continues to the New Orleans City Council’s vote to take down four so-called “Confederate” monuments from civic space, in the form of threats and intimidation. A recent protest at the P.G.T. Beauregard monument featuring young men carrying “Confederate battle flags” and signs that read “Stop the Hate” and “All Lives Matter” demonstrated public confusion about the meaning of the monuments. It is clarifying to put them in their own historical context.
A year after the Civil War’s end, Edward Pollard’s “The Lost Cause” praised two heroes: Robert E. Lee (Army of Northern Virginia) and Albert Sidney Johnston (Army of Tennessee, to which the now popular “Confederate battle flag” belonged).
Six years later, coinciding with the birth of Rex, Metairie Cemetery was established along with its first monument: to the Army of Tennessee. Tennessee was the first state to experience Reconstruction. The year 1874 saw construction of the Confederate Memorial in Greenwood Cemetery and an insurrection (known colloquially as “The Battle of Liberty Place”) that overthrew the state government for two weeks, then surrendered without a shot to the U.S. Army. Two years later, as part of a backroom deal to win the election, President Hayes withdrew federal troops from the South and ended Reconstruction, an event celebrated by an 1881 monument to the Army of Northern Virginia in Metairie Cemetery, the 1884 Lee monument (Lee’s daughter was Queen of Comus that year), and the addition in 1887 of Albert Sidney Johnston’s statue to the Army of Tennessee monument. The “Lost Cause” story was established in our civic space.
Jefferson Davis died in 1889. Mississippi disfranchised blacks in 1890.
The Confederate Museum and Liberty Place monument were built in 1891. P.G.T. Beauregard died in 1893. Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1896. Louisiana disfranchised blacks in 1898. Political white supremacy was established in our state.
Segregation proceeded as a political and legal agenda. To resist it, the NAACP was founded in 1909 and the Urban League in 1910. By that time, Jim Crow legislation was in place across the South. And in 1911, the Jefferson Davis monument was built.
In 1913, newly elected President Woodrow Wilson segregated federal offices, a significant national recognition of the Jim Crow regime. The P.G.T. Beauregard monument was built in 1915, the same year Wilson screened “Birth of a Nation” (based on Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel “The Clansman”) in the White House.
They misunderstand these monuments who believe they have any essential reference to the Confederacy. That reference is their form, not their content.
In New Orleans, we love our history. So let’s get our story straight.
minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church