In 2017, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu began to rid his city of several Confederate Army monuments. It was the culmination of a two-year legal battle that ultimately came down to a City Council vote.
Not everybody’s happy with the move, as a lot of New Orleans residents consider the Confederate Army to be a treasured part of New Orleans’ history, but Landrieu says that there are better ways to remember the legacy of the Civil War in Louisiana than monuments which ultimately commemorate an army that was fighting to keep America’s Black people enslaved.
Sure, a lot of modern-day apologists for the Confederacy will argue that the Civil War was waged over states’ rights, but that’s only half true. There’s no question that slavery was considered a vital part of the Confederacy and if the North had lost the war, slavery would have lasted a lot longer than it did.
Before the Civil War, New Orleans was the country’s largest slave market, with a port that saw hundreds of thousands of Black people brought over from other countries, only to be torn from their families, sold up the Mississippi River, and condemned to a life of inescapable hardship.
When the Civil War began and President Abraham Lincoln’s mission to preserve the Union began in earnest, New Orleans fell to the Northern armies fairly quickly.
Nevertheless, nearly fifty years after the Civil War had ended and Louisiana had been brought back into the United States, New Orleans and various other cities in the American South began erecting monuments to Confederate soldiers in an attempt to whitewash US history, recasting the Confederate Army as noble rebels instead of deeply misguided racists.
But the past few years have dredged some of the United States’ ugliest chapters into the spotlight and, along with that, a renewed energy in the need to atone for our past atrocities.
Removing the statues of men like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis from the public square doesn’t erase what happens, but it does take that chapter of American history off of a pedestal and acknowledge to today’s descendants of the people they fought to enslave that we, as a nation, do not condone their actions or take pride in them.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Landrieu said, “History, unfortunately, has seen great nations become lost, isolated and ultimately extinct by refusing to confront the sins of the past and evolve to meet the demands of a changing world. If we don’t want to be forever held back by our crushing history of institutional racism, it’s time to relegate these monuments to their proper place.”
Thanks to the work of people like Landrieu and New Orleans’ residents who are supporting the mission, those monuments are being relegated to their proper place, and the people of New Orleans can start focusing on the difficult work of racial equality.
A version of this article was originally published in Issue 01 of the Goodnewspaper in July 2017.