opinion

History Lesson

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu Isn’t Stuck in 1865

When he says the word ‘history,’ Landrieu doesn’t mean just 1861-65. That makes a lot of people mad. But he is resolute.

opinion

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Next year, New Orleans will celebrate its 300-year anniversary, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu has an ambitious vision that has been relatively unheard of in the South. Mayor Landrieu, and many other New Orleanians, want to build a city that celebrates its diversity instead of the four years of tyranny during the Civil War. Yet as he forges a more inclusive future that includes removing monuments that celebrate the Confederacy, the racist, tyrannical factions that have consistently stymied progress and sowed division in the South have risen to terrorize those who champion diversity.

“The future does not belong to small Southern cities who honor the Confederacy,” said Mayor Landrieu to The Daily Beast. “The first thing we want to do is reclaim our real history, and tell it in its totality.”

From the first second that someone steps foot in New Orleans, the diversity of its culture shines through. The food, architecture, music, French-influenced accents and names, and so much more distinguish New Orleans as an American city that has been defined by its diversity for hundreds of years. The English, French, German, and Spanish have all called the city home. The culture of Louisiana’s indigenous peoples can also still be felt in the city.

The city’s African American community has had a long and distinguished history in the city. Prior to the Civil War, New Orleans had the largest community of Free Persons of Color in the South. Many of them came from the Caribbean, especially Haiti, and spoke French as their first language, but also English. This community of FPC’s were well educated, sophisticated, and travelled internationally, and they were still considered as less than white Americans who in many cases had accomplished much less. These FPC’s represent a fascinating American story that hardly ever gets told. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the FPC community and the newly freed blacks engaged in enlightening conversations about the nature of freedom in this new America, and how to classify representatives of the African diaspora that are still relevant today.

Yet Louisiana still suffers from the scourge of pro-Confederate propaganda that has blighted and de facto governed the South for more than a century. The goal remains to misrepresent four years of failure as a long and proud history, which never existed. Defenders of the Confederacy also display no hesitation to harass and terrorize those who object to their vile propaganda and historical misrepresentations.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about New Orleans’ efforts to remove the Battle of Liberty Place monument, but neither the absurdity of the monument—the monument celebrates a militia uprising intent on killing police officers—nor the pervasiveness of pro-Confederate propaganda paints the full picture of the obstacles that those who champion diversity in the South confront.

“I have been really, really surprised at how aggressive the individuals are who don’t want these monuments down have been, and how similar they are in tone to burning crosses on lawns and bombing churches,” said Mayor Landrieu. “The tactics sound exactly the same.”

The Battle of Liberty Place monument was removed this week and almost every person associated with the removal of the monument has received some sort of harassment. The contractor who was originally assigned this project, but later declined it after receiving death threats, had his car set on fire. Government employees and contractors who were at the worksite have had their photos taken, and shared on social media alongside their home address. Mayor Landrieu’s home address was also shared on social media.

Due to the obvious safety concerns surrounding the removal of the monument, law enforcement, including the fire department, have been asked to protect contractors on the worksite. And now the public safety officers have been targeted for harassment.

On Wednesday, known white supremacist and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke tweeted the phone number of the contractors who removed the monument to his 36,000 followers.

The logistics of removing the other three monuments, which celebrate Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, and P.G.T. Beauregard, and the president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, have become increasingly complicated due to the harassment. People are legitimately scared for their well-being if they assist with the removal of these treasonous monuments due to the rampant harassment and intimidation.

The goal, as in the 1870s when the Battle of Liberty Place occurred, remains a sustained reign of terror and harassment to prevent progress, diversity and integration. The White League, which attacked the New Orleans Police Department in 1874, were terrorists who did not feel the need to cover their faces with a white sheet. Militia-facilitated terror had become normalized from 1865—the founding of the KKK ­— to the formation of The White League in 1874, and fear of being outed was no longer as severe. The White League openly collaborated with the KKK, politicians and business leaders to terrorized Louisianans and undermine democratic institutions, all in the name of white supremacy.

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Today, some racist Americans choose to hide their face behind the cover (or Twitter egg) of social media as they terrorize, but many others show no hesitation to show their face and spread their racist, divisive drivel. David Duke for a long time has not felt the need to hide behind the white sheets of the KKK, and can comfortably endorse Donald Trump for president and believe that his endorsement could help Trump’s campaign.

The terrors of the past that many Americans thought had been confined to the past have been progressively normalized and they have reemerged with a commitment to intimidate those who have an American vision that champions equality, diversity, and an accurate retelling of our history.

“Those four statues, in the most prominent places, reflect four years of our history and the attitude that allows those statues to stand up is an attitude that has allowed New Orleans to shrink,” said Mayor Landrieu. “We know how to reach toward the future and retain our past, but our past has to be the honest past and not the dishonest past.”