“Alternative facts” are not just Trump soundbites; they’re actual elements of American history that are produced (and reproduced) via textbooks, the erection of monuments, and the focus of television news.
Revisionist history, which reinterprets the historical record, has been used to “rewrite” the history of the American confederacy, seeking to condition the American public to a prolonged narrative of white supremacy and Black subjugation. But New Orleans had had enough. Statues which sought to promote white supremacy without recognizing its terroristic realities were deemed a “public nuisance” and to date, four of them have been removed.
On May 19th, 2017, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu orated one of the most infamous speeches condemning white supremacy, supporting truth-telling and promoting racial justice. The speech signaled the removal of the last of four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy: Gen. Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, and the memorial of the Battle of Liberty Place, a white-supremacist attempt to overthrow New Orleans’ post-civil war government. In Landrieu’s words:
“To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed, it cannot be moved like a statue.”
“why [are there] no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.”
While Mayor Landrieu’s actions and speech signaled notable progress after a tide of public hearings and judicial review, the work of grassroots activist groups have been largely side-stepped by mainstream media. But thanks to Clint Smith’s recent article in the New Republic, we know more about their story.
Before Landrieu was even in office, New Orleans-based activists mobilized to scrub the city of its honorable mentions of the Confederacy. In the 1980s and 1990s, activists mobilized to change the name of 23 schools. And, in the aftermath of the Charleston Massacre, Take ‘Em Down NOLA helped propel an already forward-moving movement to remove enduring symbols of white supremacy.
Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a prominent activist group in the area, is a “Black-led multiracial intergenerational coalition” that seeks to “remove the name of every Confederate, white supremacist, and slave-owning individual from New Orleans.” And while the removal of these four monuments constitutes more progress, the group has identified 100 other statues, 24 street names, seven schools, and two hospitals with troubling references. As Smith notes, even Tulane University was named after Paul Tulane – the largest donor to the Confederacy in New Orleans.
New Orleans, LA, and Charleston, SC have taken steps to address the physical representations of revisionist history – and other cities may soon follow suit. Baltimore’s mayor is considering removing the city’s Confederate monuments, including a statue of Roger Taney, the Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, as well as monuments of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
And, institutions like Georgetown University will rename two buildings previously bearing titles that reflected the school’s past dealings in slavery. While some will say we need these reminders so that “history won’t repeat itself,’ remembering only part of a history through a statue which dictates a single narrative is a history we should remember no more. Let’s #PushBlack and tell the whole story. All of the time.