New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explains to his city why four monuments commemorating the Lost Cause and the Confederacy had to come down.
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... As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”..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... 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... After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city... Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous “corner-stone speech” that the Confederacy’s:
corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
.. I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us, and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago—so we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.
.. This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile, and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.
.. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans—or anyone else—to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd... All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity... He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us … This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.”.. If presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces, would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?.. So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.
we are as badly fractured in approaching history as we are in confronting the present.
.. And shouldn’t we all be able to rally around the core idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal” with rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?
.. “The historic record is clear,” Landrieu said. “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.”
“It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, they fought against it,” he continued. “. . . These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”
.. He cited Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’s straightforward declaration that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”
.. Those who opposed independence could fairly respond that the “long train of abuses and usurpations” the Declaration put forward did not justify breaking our bonds with Britain. But the critics could not claim that the founders had ignored the obligation they took on by expressing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”
Quixote didn’t charge the windmill because he thought he would defeat it, but because he concluded it was the right thing to do.
.. Likewise, if we want to be legitimate actors in the world, Unamuno would say that we must be willing to lose the fight. If we abandon the common-sense belief that deems only winnable fights worth fighting, we can adopt Unamuno’s “moral courage” and become quixotic pessimists: pessimists because we recognize our odds of losing are quite high, and quixotic because we fight anyway. Quixotic pessimism is thus marked by a refusal to let the odds of my success determine the value of my fight.
.. Contemporary windmills might look like a small town getting a Walmart, or like kindergartners getting free iPads. Common sense fails us in two ways: first and most often, it uncritically believes that technology equals progress, and second, even in cases in which people recognize the potential harm to the community, they generally don’t believe that they can resist it.
.. Cultivating moral courage amounts to learning to shift our attention away from those who confuse criticism for action toward our own judgment of what is worthwhile, based on thinking a whole lot about what kind of world we would like to live in and the kinds of people we’d like to be.
It is worth noting that Quixote went mad from reading books, and this is precisely the type of crazy that Unamuno supports. We may not be able to improve the world, but we can at least refuse to cooperate with a corrupt one.
.. We can similarly transform ourselves into quixotic pessimists — the kind who are called dreamers, idealists or lunatics — by reading more, rejecting common sense and reinterpreting what constitutes a waste of time.