New Orleans: The Jewel of the Confederacy
The New Orleans Collection is a commentary on the contested legacy of the civil war, and an effort to bring to light historical evidence that is very relevant to the circumstances swirling about places of interest in the Southern United States. As the site of physical confrontations manifesting the ideological clashes of our time, the monuments here tell a story about race in America, from the ways in which they were funded and constructed to their significance as objects attempting to narrate history in the United States. Most prominent among the controversies surrounding the city's Confederate legacy was the 2017 removal of the Robert E. Lee statue following the 2015 Chaleston church shooting and the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally. Covered closely by national media, the saga was high-stakes, from legal battles to death threats, but the Lee monument finally came down in May 2017. The Mayor of New Orleans at the time, Mitch Landrieu, accompanied the event with a speech in which he acknowledged the city's ties to slavery and called for monuments in remembrance of the darker side of New Orleans's history to create "healing and understanding" in the community. In light of these events, our collection explores three monuments as part of the history of New Orleans: the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, the Battle of Liberty Place monument, and the Charles Didier Dreux Monument, all of which contribute to our understanding of the Confederate legacy in the city itself and the country at large.
Why New Orleans?
New Orleans’ historical importance rested in its geographical location near the Mississippi River’s mouth and the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s commercial waterway accessibility thereby transformed it into a central sea-trading hub, which, throughout the Colonial and Antebellum periods of U.S. history, also made it the country’s largest slave-market.
Its direct participation with and economic dependence on slavery resulted in its Civil War status as the Jewel of the Confederacy, which unified the city’s elite under a socio-political consensus. For most of that war, however, Union General Benjamin F. Butler and his forces occupied the city. That combined with Reconstruction only reinforced the elite’s Confederate sympathies and led to their adoption of the Lost Cause narrative. From the wealth acquired from the Antebellum and Gilded Age economies, they built monuments in New Orleans as totems to the Confederacy, Lost Cause, and White supremacy.
The three archives in this collection all contextualize Louisiana’s history as pertinent to one’s understanding of the Confederate monuments and memorials herein. Each archive was chosen for its representation of the following: 1) removal during the post-Charlottesville protests in 2017; 2) removal sometime after 2017; and 3) not removed as of 2020. This collection thereby becomes useful for one’s knowledge of each chosen monument/memorial’s direct connection to the larger history of racism within Louisiana and the U.S.Present Controversies
Activist groups in New Orleans are currently organizing to have the city remove its remaining Confederate monuments. Take ‘Em Down NOLA’s website lists Confederate monuments in New Orleans as well as parks, schools and streets named after members of the Confederacy. They also provide background information on the people the monuments are dedicated to and list their status (remaining, removed by the city, removed by protestors, etc.) Take ‘Em Down draws connections between Confederate monuments, the broader history of the Civil War, and present battles against racism and police brutality. They created a list of objectives and believe that the removal of these monuments is the first step in order for New Orleans to make reparations for its part in the slave trade.
There are also groups that work in opposition to activist groups in New Orleans. The Monumental Task Committee is a tax-exempted, non-profit organization in the city that restores Confederate monuments. Their work includes the removal of graffiti from the Charles Didier Dreux monument and the Samuel Lowenberg monument after they were vandalized by protestors. However, their website does not specifically voice support for the Confederacy, merely an admiration for the city’s “world-class art.” They organized in 1989 after crowdsourcing funds to “rescue the abandoned Davis monument on Canal Street.” The volunteers survey the city to count the statues and note any that need restoration. They are currently developing a “newer and more comprehensive city-wide monument restoration plan” and a large fundraising program.
Duhé, Bailey J. “Decentering Whiteness and Refocusing on the Local: Reframing Debates on Confederate Monument Removal in New Orleans.” In Museum Anthropology 41, no. 2 (Fall 2018): 120-25. https://doi-org.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/10.1111/muan.12184
2. Hunter, G. Howard. “Late to the Dance: New Orleans and the Emergence of a Confederate City.” In Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 57, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 297-322. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43916946
3. Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999.
4. Lugo, Liza and Liza Treadwell. How Do Hurricane Katrina’s Winds Blow: Racism in 21st-Century New Orleans. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2014.
5. Marler, Scott P. The Merchants’ Capital: New Orleans and the Political Economy of the Nineteenth-Century South. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
6. Maxon, J. David. “‘Second Line to Bury White Supremacy’: Take ‘Em Down Nola, monument removal, and residual memory.” In the Quarterly Journal of Speech 106, no. 1 (2020): 48-71. https://doi-org.lib-proxy.fullerton.edu/10.1080/00335630.2019.1704428
7. Powell, Lawrence N. The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.