Confederacy / Confederate Flag

Mayor Landrieu Frames the Debate Over Confederate Symbols

In 2011, Public Policy Polling (“PPP) sampled voters in Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina on attitudes about the Civil War and Jim Crow and saw a sizable minority wished that the South had won the Civil War and that interracial marriage remained illegal.

Wish South Had Won Civil War 27% 23 21%
 — Whites 35% 29% 25%
— GOP 38% 31% 33%
Ban Interracial Marriage 28% 22% 20%
— Whites 38% 26% 22%
— GOP 41% 29% 30%

A 2015 PPP survey of South Carolina voters found that 30% of Republicans and 38% percent of Trump supporters wished that South had won the Civil War.

That same year, white supremacist Dylan Roof’s attack on a Charleston church that killed nine African-Americans sparked a debate over the Confederate flag and other remaining symbols of the Confederacy.  Old canards that the Civil War was about state’s rights contradicted the secession statements of states such as Texas which declared

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

This year, 152 years after the end of the Civil War, state offices in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi were closed on April 24th in observance of Confederate Memorial Day.  In New Orleans, however, Mayor Mitch Landrieu began removing the remaining Civil War statues which he said celebrated the “Cult of the Lost Cause.”

As the last Civil War monument was removed, Landrieu gave a moving speech about the legacy of the Confederacy and the “Cult of the Lost Cause.”  Landrieu challenged those who claim the statues are merely honoring the region’s history.

And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame… all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

Landrieu added:

This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

As if almost to prove Landrieu’s point, Karl Oliver, a Mississippi Republican State Representative exclaimed:

The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, “leadership” of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.

In addition, on the same day the last statue came down in New Orleans, the Alabama State Senate passed legislation to “prohibit the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument that has stood on public property for 40 or more years.”

For too long, the celebration of Confederate symbols have been used as a cover to celebrate bigotry, which the PPP polls show remains deep rooted in the south.  Mayor Landrieu is right, this debate is about “our attitudes and behavior as well.”  The Charleston AME mass murder and election of Donald Trump demonstrate that letting this fester and remain unchallenged is no longer an option.

Mayor Landrieu has ignited a debate and is rightfully asking his fellow southerners to choose between the 21st and 19th centuries and American values and the failed bigotry of the Confederacy.