This might be news to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, but tomorrow is the anniversary of the Battle of Liberty Place.
Landrieu is somewhat hazy about dates, to judge from an email he just sent out informing supporters that the monument to the battle was erected in 1886.
Perhaps he was momentarily discombobulated by the threat of house arrest for stiffing the firefighters’ pension fund. On this evidence, he wouldn’t qualify for a tour guide’s license from his own administration.
The granite obelisk commemorating the white dead of the 1874 uprising did not appear at the foot of Canal Street until 1891.
It ain’t there no more and now stands on a side street next to a parking lot. Not for much longer, though. The monument should not occupy even that ignominious space, according to hizzoner.
The email is misleading not just in historical terms, for it sets out to compare U.S. Sen. David Vitter to Nazi apologist and former klansman David Duke. Vitter and Duke are peas in a pod, Landrieu repeatedly suggests, because they both want the Liberty Monument to remain in public view.
Landrieu must have been some discombobulated when he wrote that.
Duke says he refuses to “negotiate with Soviet-style, Isis-style cultural terrorists” and threatens to file a lawsuit to keep the monument in place. Vitter’s response has been somewhat more measured, and, indeed, he has made no comment about the monument itself, which is one of four Confederate icons Landrieu wants to displace. Vitter pooh-poohs the whole plan, which will also banish the statues of Pierre Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Vitter says Landrieu should “focus on murders, not monuments.”
If that made him a Duke clone, we would have to abandon any hope of racial harmony, for a large proportion of the citizenry is also for leaving the streets just the way they are. That hardly constitutes proof of racism; indeed, not all those opposing Landrieu’s plan at public hearings have been white.
Some view Landrieu’s plan as an assault on heritage and historical truth; others figure they have more to worry about than a few old weather-beaten graven images and agree that Landrieu should, instead, devote his attention to street crime. Besides, the two other Republican candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, share Vitter’s view on the Confederate monuments, but neither rates a mention in the email.
Landrieu’s motive for attacking Vitter is hard to fathom. If the intention is to damage Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign, it will, no doubt, misfire. Most voters will dismiss the attempt to link Vitter with Duke as over the top. Even those who don’t will not necessarily be put off voting for him. A mere two decades ago, Duke captured most of the white vote in bids for U.S. senator and governor, so his name cannot yet be mud everywhere.
Vitter first took public office in 1992 after winning Duke’s old seat in the state Legislature. That, however, seems to be all they had in common before Landrieu lumped them together.
The Liberty Monument might seem the odd man out alongside the statues on Landrieu’s hit list, but its historical significance could be regarded as even greater than theirs. The Confederates, after all, having lost the war, went on to win the peace after veterans of the White League routed integrated Reconstruction forces at Liberty Place.
Although federal troops soon reinstated Republican Gov. William Pitt Kellogg, the White League remained the dominant force. Democrats in Louisiana and other southern states then signed on to the deal that settled disputes over 1876 election returns at both state and federal levels. As a result, Republican Rutherford Hayes became president, Democrat Francis Nicholls became governor of Louisiana, federal troops were withdrawn from the south and Reconstruction was over. The Battle of Liberty Place was, thus, an important milestone on the road to Jim Crow.
The monument duly became the racists’ totem, receiving an additional inscription in 1932, declaring that the 1876 elections “recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.” That legend ain’t there no more, either.
There have been many photographs of Duke strutting in front of the Liberty Monument over the years, and tomorrow would be a logical time for him to show up again. Doubt we’ll see Vitter there, though.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.