On April 29, 1862, the city of New Orleans surrendered to the Union Army. At the time, New Orleans was the heart of the Confederate economy, comprising half of it’s total income with cotton, tobacco and sugar; all picked by the hands of enslaved black folks.
Also, it was a major source of troops, arms and supplies for the Confederate Army. It was also the largest slave importer in the country at the time. So when the city fell it was only a matter of time before the Confederacy would be forced to surrender. Because most of the fighting in the Battle of New Orleans took place on the Mississippi River between Union ships and Confederate forts, the city itself was spared from the wide scale destruction that is often visited upon urban areas during times of war.
Today there are over 206,871 people of African descent residing in New Orleans. That’s minus the estimated 97,000 black residents that fled following Hurricane Katrina.
Though the world famous city has been through many trials and tribulations over the years, its residents are proud of its heritage with all of its inherent travesties and pock marks.
But just like just about every other multi-ethnic city in America, there are a significant amount of injustices and virtual face slaps to American multiculturalism and inclusion. Of the 4,000 official lynchings recorded in the United States, 450 of them happened in the state of Louisiana including a horrifying day in 1866 that saw 36 black souls sent to their maker by white supremacists.
Past, present and future all exist in a temporal gumbo that we’re ill-equipped to see physically. However, we feel the pain of our ancestors, recognize their struggles via their contemporary battles while working toward a better future, one in which the injustices of the past are remedied by love, camaraderie and acceptance.
But New Orleans is so steeped in racism, of the both actively violent and static institutional varieties, folks have to start somewhere. But it helps when a representative from the very system responsible for these historic and future slights decides enough is enough.
Recently New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu signed the order to remove four Confederate statues from public lands. His speech was filled with compassion and understanding. So much so that my skepticism went into overdrive. However, as was famously coined by Sir Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is simply cigar. To that end, maybe he actually does give a damn.
The statues are of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, “president” Jefferson Davis, and General P.G.T. Beauregard, the first of which was built 19 years after the Civil War and served as both a memorial for whites and a clear warning to blacks regarding power and racial pecking order.
They aren’t just in the deep south either. Though the false narrative likes to paint the south as the lone Confederate bastion, monuments paying homage to white supremacists exist in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, all of which officially fought on the side of the Union, and even in states like Montana, Arizona and Oklahoma, which were merely territories during the war.
But the disrespectful hits are NOT a thing of the past. In North Carolina, for instance, 35 monuments have been added since 2000, according to a University of North Carolina survey.
Though this attempt by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to alter the future by removing testaments to a hateful, ignorant past is valiant, this country could use hundreds if not thousands more politicians willing to take similar actions. After all, New Orleans isn’t the only city with confederate statues littering the terrain. According to USA Today, there are over 700 monuments to the traitorous confederates throughout the United States and chances are the majority of them aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.