06 August 2017

Late to the Party

It rained like hell in New Orleans yesterday. That happens sometimes. The drainage pumps in New Orleans can drain 1" of rain in the first hour, and 1/2" per hour after that. That's 2" in three hours, so if, as yesterday, more rain than that falls, there will be water in the streets.

I'm currently 500 miles away, so it's easy for me to take a dispassionate view. But when the streets are filling and you're watching the waterline relentlessly climb your driveway, it's hard not to get emotional. I have lived through it; nobody likes feeling powerless.

A friend of a friend posted on FB yesterday something to the effect of: "I *know* the pumps aren't on, so glad the confederate monuments are gone". Of course, the city insists that the pumps were on, and really there's no reason to believe they weren't. Eventually, the pumps caught up and the streets are drained.

In May of this year, the city of New Orleans removed four monuments to the Civil War and its aftermath. If you're not from New Orleans, you probably know little or no context. The four monuments are (were):
  • Battle of Liberty Place Monument - Read about the events it commemorates and decide how proud you'd be of it.
  • Jefferson Davis Monument - Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy. He died and was originally buried in New Orleans. He certainly visited New Orleans many times, but he doesn't have a particular connection to the city.
  • Robert E. Lee Monument - Robert E. Lee passed through New Orleans several times while he was an officer in the United States Army. Like Davis, Lee was commemorated not for any connection or service to the city, but because he was a leader of the Confederacy.
  • General Beauregard Equestrian Statue - P. G. T. Beauregard, like Lee, attended the US Military Academy at West Point, and was an officer in the US Army before resigning his commission to lead Confederate forces. Beauregard ordered the first shots fired in the war. Unlike Lee (and Davis), Beauregard was a New Orleans native and lived in the city after the Civil War.
The monuments were dedicated many years after the war (and notably, after Reconstruction). The Lee monument was dedicated in 1884, the Davis and Beauregard monuments were dedicated in 1911 and 1915 respectively. All four monuments were, at the time, statements of defiance.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu led an ultimately successful legal battle to remove the monuments from their positions. These positions ranged from largely hidden from view (Battle of Liberty Place Monument) to prominent (Lee Circle).  All four have existed for the entire lives of the current residents of New Orleans, and Lee Circle especially has served as a landmark. It's not surprising that some people objected to the removal.

But.

The South was wrong in almost every way.

It was immoral. The Confederacy was created primarily to preserve the institution of human slavery.

It was illegal. The Confederate Army was guilty of treason by the Constitutional definition (they were pardoned after the war).

It was murderous. More Americans died as a result of the Civil War than all other military conflicts combined.

It was counter-productive. The white residents of the former Confederate states are immensely better off as part of the United States than they would have as the Confederacy. It should go without saying that this is true of the black residents.

It was petulant. Abolition was inevitable.

Even for generations after abolition. the treatment of black Americans in the South was shameful. Reconstruction was awful but it was a response to the obstinate refusal of the South to accept that black Americans were now to be equal in rights to whites. In the 1960's the last legal vestiges of racial inequality were finally removed but it would be naive, if not disingenuous, to suggest that racial equality has been achieved.

In the end, I'm not personally harmed by the removal of the monuments (the courts agree). The presence of the monuments, among other things, was a reminder to black New Orleanians that whites held power over them.

New Orleans has bigger problems than Confederate monuments. But a city can't just stack rank problems and only work on the top one exclusively until it's resolved. Murder is worse than robbery, but you'd like the police to work on both.

It's long past time for the South to move on from the Confederacy. I like being from the South. I wish there were a symbol of southern heritage that wasn't steeped in racism. Unfortunately, the Confederate Battle Flag isn't that.

Opposition to the remove of Civil War monuments doesn't prove you're a racist. But it definitely doesn't disprove it. Find something else to be outraged about. The murder rate might be a good place to start.


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