Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Whitewashing history to keep living a lie

Here's the problem with us white Southerners, as succinctly as I can put it: We don't know who or what the hell we are apart from defining ourselves by the most horrific sins of our forefathers, then trying to whitewash that evil because it was our kin what did it.

Above, behold the truth of the antebellum South before our defeated ancestors managed to sanitize the whole unholy thing into "the Lost Cause" and -- in a triumph of what passed for "fake news" in the 1880s and 1890s -- turn the Civil War into a glorious-yet-doomed campaign against Yankee usurpers in the name of states' rights. A completely logical and fair question to ask here would be "States' rights to do what, exactly?"

The answer you would not get from the originators of Lost Cause mythology then, and the answer you will not get today from the patently racist defenders of "Southern heritage" and "history," is one reflecting the truth. The plain truth you will find in the original source materials, or from talking to any serious historian of the "War Between the States," is that, in 1861, the 11 seceding Southern states wanted to maintain the "right" of whites to hold blacks in bondage, buy and sell them like you would lumber or cotton, and then -- if Satan so moved them -- whip the "property" until their backs looked like this famous 1863 photo of an escaped Louisiana slave known as Gordon or "Whipped Peter."

The source materials and the photographic record tells us that the mutilated Gordon is a far better representative of the South's antebellum and wartime reality than the "history" and "heritage" peddled by Southern snake-oil salesmen since 1877, when Reconstruction ended at least a couple of generations too soon.

In 1961, when I was born in Baton Rouge, Southern "heritage"consisted of moonlight, magnolias and -- as Randy Newman correctly put in in his seminal "Rednecks" -- "keeping the niggers down." Or, as Alabama Gov. George Wallace put it in 1962:
"In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
Today, being that our parents couldn't stop the feds from giving blacks the vote, preserving "Southern heritage" and "history" centers on venerating the Confederate battle flag and preserving the "Lost Cause" monuments to the generals and founding fathers of the Confederate States of America -- tributes in cement and stone that started going up as soon as the last Yankee soldiers got out some 140 years ago.

In my native state, Louisiana, brainwashed Lost Causers of the Deep South booboisie are figuratively (and perhaps literally) losing their minds now that New Orleans is actually removing the first of those whitewashed tributes to treason and tyranny that rose with the Jim Crow reassertion of white supremacy. The first to go -- in the wee hours of Monday, as SWAT snipers and New Orleans street cops guarded helmeted, masked demolition workers clad in flak jackets -- was the Battle of Liberty Place monument.

It's "fascism and tyranny," one Lost Cause dead-ender yelled at the "cowardly" work crews, who also covered up the company name on their vehicles and removed the license plates. Of course, the workers wore masks and the company name was covered because every firm that so much as bid on the job faced a barrage of abuse and death threats in the name of "history" and "heritage." The owner of a Baton Rouge firm that originally won a contract discovered that his $200,000 sports car had been turned into a molten glob of metal in his parking lot -- burned.

He declined the job.

THE FAKE NEWS about Liberty Place we Louisianians were taught for a century or more was that the victory of 5,000 White League combatants over the 3,500 from New Orleans' integrated Metropolitan Police and units of the state militia represented the beginning of the end of rule by carpetbagger "usurpers." The reality was that the deadly September 1874 insurrection aimed to overthrow the Republican governor of Louisiana following a disputed 1872 election, and the White League succeeded in capturing state offices as Gov. William Pitt Kellogg took refuge in the Customs House and begged Washington for help.

Three days later, the Pelican State putsch ended when President Ulysses S. Grant sent in the U.S. Army and the White League slinked away.

The Liberty Place monument went up in 1891, erected by the Jim Crow city government. Inscriptions noting the battle's importance in establishing white supremacy were added in 1932.

From The New Orleans Advocate:
The removal was delayed, however, as the city found itself tied up in court battles that lasted until earlier this year, when the 5th Circuit ruled that the city could move forward while a trial on the monument backers' suit played out.

That case also was resolved on Monday, when U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier dismissed claims made by several groups led by the Monumental Task Committee, ruling that the plaintiffs had not shown they could succeed on the merits. Among their arguments was that the committee should have a say in what happened to the monuments because it had done work over the years to clean and restore them.
[New Orleans Mayor Mitch] Landrieu was not spotted at the removal itself, and other city officials there were not allowed to comment to the media, leaving the city’s official comments to a release issued two hours after the process began and then Landrieu's news conference.

“Our past is marked by racial divisions. Today we are moving to a place of healing,” Landrieu said.

That event was held at the police memorial in front of NOPD headquarters, a deliberate choice by the administration to accentuate the fact that the White League killed members of the city’s biracial police force during its rebellion.

Emphasizing the city’s focus on security, members of the media had to email city officials before even being told where Landrieu would speak.

“Of the four we will remove, this is perhaps the most blatant affront to the values that make New Orleans and America strong today,” Landrieu said of the Battle of Liberty Place monument.

“We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put in the heart of our city. The removal of these statues sends a clear message, an unequivocal message to the people of our nation that our city celebrates our diversity,” he added.

The Liberty Place monument has always been a flashpoint of controversy and was a site of rallies years ago by white nationalist David Duke and protests by civil rights leader Rev. Avery Alexander, something that may have contributed to Monday's level of security.

This is also the second time the monument has been removed. It was taken down from its original spot on the Canal Street neutral ground during roadwork in the late 1980s and was put up again only on orders from a federal court. It was placed in a less conspicuous spot at the foot of Iberville Street, between a garage and the floodwall.

The timing of the statue’s removal came as an odd historical coincidence in a debate focused on the Civil War and its aftermath.

Monday was Confederate Memorial Day in Mississippi and Alabama. It also marked the 155th anniversary of the day Union ships under the command of Capt. David Farragut managed to pass two Confederate forts on the river in Plaquemines Parish, an attack that started at almost exactly the same early morning hour as workers began taking down the monument. Once Farragut’s squadron made it past those forts, New Orleans, the Confederacy's largest city, was left defenseless. It surrendered without a fight four days later.

Exactly 15 years later, federal troops would leave the city on April 24 on the order of new President Rutherford B. Hayes, marking the end of Reconstruction.

The end of that federal oversight, which ushered in the Jim Crow era, was commemorated on the Liberty Place statue itself in 1932 with a plaque that said “the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” Less inflammatory language was added when the marker was moved to Iberville Street.
THIS IS HISTORY.  The monuments are propaganda, erected to obscure history, not to shine a light on the fraught past of the American South. The Liberty Place marker and the ones yet to come down -- massive statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who fired the opening salvos on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, as well as the biggest of all, that of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle -- say nothing about why the South fought or what it all meant.

All they do is cloak the ugly reality of a sick culture and a wicked economy built upon the exploitation and dehumanization of an entire race . . . and the culpability of the men who led 11 states into treasonous rebellion to defend the indefensible.

"History" to people either too racist or too brainwashed to comprehend the obvious is, instead, nothing more than a crude attempt to bestow a patina of dignity upon a people's and a region's ignominious and total defeat. The only relevant history involving these tributes to a well-lost cause would be that of the how-tos of disinformation and cultural brainwashing on a civilizational scale.

The "heritage" they represent is a God-damned abomination.

Once upon a time, as a well and good brainwashed son of the South, I'd be offended at all the little digs and insults from Yankees about my home place. But when you step back and look at the enormity of the South's sin and the enormity of the South's delusions -- even to this day -- you start to realize those humiliations haven't been nearly bad enough or often enough.

Frankly, there ought to have been a de-Confederafication of the South at least as extensive and long-running as the de-Nazification of Germany after World War II. Confederate symbolism should have been made as unacceptable and untouchable as the swastika became for postwar Germans.

Being charitable to vanquished enemies is one thing, but bygones-as-bygones isn't an option when the real enemy is cultural and ideological. You can rebuild the ruined land, but you damn well cannot allow the rebuilding of the toxic, deadly ideology.

The federal government, however, damn well allowed the rebuilding of the South's toxic, deadly ideology. And here we are in 2017, with loyal sons and daughters of the Southland still making excuses for the sins of their forebears -- when they can bring themselves to acknowledge America's original sin at all.

IF MITCH LANDRIEU were to ask me what to do with Lee Circle after that most prominent of the Lost Cause love letters comes down, I'd tell him that I think the city should replace the statue of Robert E. Lee with a monument to that whipped Louisiana slave whose photograph caused such a stir in the North. There should be a gigantic memorial to Gordon, or "Whipped Peter," or whoever that suffering soul was.

According to the Wikipedia entry for the famous Civil War picture, Gordon joined the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation -- first as a guide (he was captured by Confederates, tied to a tree, beaten, left for dead . . . and then escaped) and then as a sergeant in the Corps d'Afrique. He fought bravely at Port Hudson (La.), the first battle where black troops took the lead in a Union assault.

Where the soon-to-be-removed monument to Lee stood, I would erect a wall several stories tall. On one side, a relief of that picture of the scarred, disfigured slave who fled a plantation near Krotz Springs, La., and made it to safety in Union-occupied Baton Rouge.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the wall, there would be a relief of this woodcut -- the Union sergeant named George, who fought as the equal of any white man at Port Hudson. And I'd rename Lee Circle something a lot more fitting . . . and inspiring.

Resurrection Circle.

I also would point out to the mayor that this Southern boy has Southern skin in this. My great-great grandfather, François Seguin, was a Confederate soldier at Port Hudson. And there he died.

In the name of a God-damned abomination.

(Later, we can discuss Louisianians' bitter refusal to honor LSU's founding superintendent . . .  William Tecumseh Sherman. Not one thing on campus is named for him. James Carville thinks the Parade Ground should be named for him; I think it should be the Union. I have skin in that controversy, too. For one thing, I am a Louisiana State graduate. Then there's the matter of another of my great-great grandfathers, Ulysses Broussard, a Confederate soldier from Louisiana who fought . . . in the Battle of Atlanta. Which is where he is buried.)

THAT'S the thing about wicked ideologies and sick cultures -- one way or another, they kill everybody without prejudice.

Caucasian sons and daughters of the South owe it to ourselves, our ancestors and history itself to, at long last, live in truth. A people and a region have no identity at all if the one they claim is a lie -- a lie that manages to both dishonor and ignore the history and humanity of fellow Southerners dehumanized, enslaved, abused and killed for the sake of "Southern heritage."

Then again, if history so far is any predictor, my people will stick with the Southern status quo of livin' the lie and partyin' like it's 1899. In that case, allow me to put a record on the turntable. You may have heard it -- fella used to live in New Orleans.

We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground . . . .

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