In New Orleans, Confederate Monuments Fall, and Tempers Flare

In Racism On
- Updated

But the New Orleans Police Department had erected barriers to separate the two groups. Louisiana is an open-carry gun state, but police officials had warned that guns would be banned at Sunday’s protest, citing a city ordinance. One local man had brought large speakers that he used to crank out pop tunes, including Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” a soundtrack that helped transform the proceedings from ominous to farcical.

Beau Tidwell, the communications director for the Police Department, said that three people were arrested Sunday for disturbing the peace over minor scuffles.

Still, the rising tensions came at an awkward time for the city, and for the mayor. This is the season when the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival takes center stage, showing off to thousands of tourists the glories of Louisiana’s musical multiculturalism and its deep ties to Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the white rural South.

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Monuments of White Supremacy

Critics have accused Mayor Mitch Landrieu of trying to rewrite history. But as he noted when he addressed the New Orleans Council on this matter two years ago, many people, including African-Americans, who were voiceless when the city stocked its plazas and thoroughfares with monuments to white supremacy have voices now and deserve to be heard on this matter.

As for the city’s future, he asked, “How can we expect to inspire a nation when our most prominent public spaces are dedicated to the reverence of the fight for bondage and supremacy?”

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A Racism Harder Than Stone

New Orleans is one of our great diverse cities, having spun its rich culture into glorious art and music, again and again. Yet a drive on these streets also reveals a landscape of “just between us” markers that are not limited to the four monuments. In New Orleans, you can drive on what’s familiarly called Jeff Davis Parkway, and from there turn onto a street named for the slavery champion John C. Calhoun.

My son’s school is racially diverse, but it still bears the last name of Robert Mills Lusher, a fierce segregationist who championed education as a means for maintaining white dominance. I enjoy art markets and crawfish boils at a park named for Benjamin Palmer, a Presbyterian minister who on Thanksgiving in 1860 preached that it was the South’s holy duty to protect and extend slavery.

Over time, these tributes to white supremacy become just part of the landscape. “I never even notice them,” white friends have told me, and often I could say the same. As I drive these streets, I am reminded of the observations of Chuck Berry, who celebrated the city in his songs but shrewdly wrote in his autobiography that in New Orleans “segregation was practiced in a more polite manner, with some strategy.”

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Another New Orleans Monument Is Removed

Workers in New Orleans in the early hours of Thursday took down a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. It was the second of four such statues or monuments targeted for removal as city officials seek to erase the vestiges of an era that celebrated white supremacy and racism.

Crews, wearing masks to cover their faces, worked under a heavy police presence starting at 3 a.m. to dismantle the statue, which was erected in 1911, nearly 50 years after the end of the war, and commissioned by the Jefferson Davis Memorial Association.

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tories of New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — The debate over the removal of four Confederate-era monuments has stewed here for nearly two years, longer than the city was under Confederate control, and it has not abated with the removal of the last: the statue of Robert E. Lee, plucked off its pedestal on Friday afternoon. On barricaded streets and in rancorous Facebook comment threads, people sparred over ideas about legacy and resolution, the line between veneration and history, and the meaning of symbols as time passes.

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