Tearing Down the Lost Cause: The Removal of New Orleans Confederate Statues by James Gill and Howard Hunter

The Removal of New Orleans Confederate Statues
By James Gill and Howard Hunter
University Press of Mississippi
Hardback, 248 pages

Hard lessons of southern history prove myths come with consequences

By Jay Wiener
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger

High-profile murders of African Americans by police officers are a watershed. Awareness of odious discrimination increasingly isolates those thusly inclined.

“Tearing Down the Lost Cause: The Removal of New Orlean’s Confederate Statues” (University Press of Mississippi) deftly dissects the country’s direction:

“The argument that the South fought for constitutional principle and the Tenth Amendment had been passed down the generations. [New Orleans Mayor Mitch] Landrieu… destroyed that claim by quoting Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens’s 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.’

“… It was unthinkable that the flower of [Southern] manhood had been sacrificed for a tawdry purpose, and no sooner was the Civil War over than the South began its search for vindication.

“… Secession became not treason but patriotism. The Southern soldier fought in brave and chivalrous defense of home and hearth against a brutish invader…. An ideal society had vanished from the face of the earth, and its memory had to be cherished….”

The denial in which Southerners wallow is as dysfunctional as that characterizing chemical dependents:

“Wolfgang Schivelbusch, in his seminal book The Culture of Defeat, maintains that ‘defeated nations waste little time, after recovering from their own initial shock, in finding scapegoats.’ Masculine norms in the South were such that a loss of honor had to be avenged. In the psychology of revenge, social scientists suggest that when individuals or societies suffer a humiliation, ‘the imperative for narcissistic repair’ becomes paramount….”

The South, waving its Bloody Flag and celebrating its Lost Cause, erected monuments alongside moonlight and magnolia myths, deepening distraction:

“The French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs wrote in 1941 that collective memory feeds ‘the spiritual needs of the present,’ and commemoration is an expression of that collective memory. History is of secondary concern…

“…. From the 1940s through the 1960s, the [Liberty Monument] served as a bulwark for a conservative citizenry against looming forces of change.

“… While the leitmotif of a freedom-loving citizenry overthrowing the shackles of William Kellogg’s carpetbag rule remained constant throughout the life of the Liberty Monument dedications, the obelisk also became a symbol of defiance to oppression, projected onto the likes of Nazi Germany, Japan, Communist China, and Soviet Russia, and finally, in a fitting end, defying the US government.”

New Orleans’ indolence incubated inanity: “New Orleans residents would forever look to the antebellum era as a golden age taken from them, not by shortsightedness and laxity of elites but by war and Northern occupation.”

New Orleans authors James Gill and Howard Hunter—the latter of whom appears on the “Myth and Consequences” panel, moderated by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, at the Mississippi Book Festival, on Saturday August 21, 2021—suggest that exclusive entities perpetuate problems. Discriminatory Carnival Krewes and other organizations were outlawed through an ordinance that asserted its right to remove a “public nuisance” from the streets. The ordinance explained what constituted a public nuisance: “The thing honors, praises or fosters ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States, the state or the laws of the city and gives honor or praise to those who participated in the killings of public employees of the city or the state or suggests the supremacy of one ethnic, religious or racial group over any other, or gives honor or praise to any violent actions taken wrongfully against citizens of the city to promote ethnic, religious, or racial superiority of any group over another….

“The nuisance ordinance and the renaming of schools sent a message that matters of commemoration and historical memory were fluid, that sacred cows were now subject to the scrutiny of the citizenry and their leaders….”

Apologists for the past are pathetically proud of their defiance. The tribalism inherent therein ignores the American trajectory. A fight is finished after attracting hooligans and extremists.

Jay Wiener is a Jackson attorney.


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