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Virgil, quick come see

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CONFEDERATE MONUMENT: On the Arkansas Capitol grounds. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • CONFEDERATE MONUMENT: On the Arkansas Capitol grounds.

Some started humming "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" last Friday as a flatbed trailer hauled the recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee from its former place of honor in a traffic circle on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans to storage along with three other dismantled monuments to the Confederacy.

There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone. The Louisiana legislature, meeting a few miles down the highway, was at work on legislation to prevent removal of any other war-related sculpture in the future.

It took a couple of pitched legislative battles for Arkansas to stop having a state holiday for Robert E. Lee. He still gets a special day. But remove the Confederate statuary from the Capitol grounds — one for Confederate soldiers, the other for the women of the Confederacy? Difficult to imagine.

Mitch Landrieu, the mayor who led the removal effort, is white, but, yes, he represents a majority black city. He was elected because he and his family have always had a good relationship with that unique city's gumbo of cultures. Still, he says he had been blind to the statues he drove past daily. People like renowned jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis helped him see the monuments through the eyes of black parents trying to explain them to their children.

Google Landrieu's speech at the conclusion of removal of the statues. It explains how the monuments are not really about history, but a dishonest history by omission. They depict, he said, "a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for." You see no monuments to lynching, slave blocks and slave ships in New Orleans.

Landrieu said the monuments were erected — just as monuments were erected and a Lee holiday enacted in Arkansas — "as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This 'cult' had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity."

The truth isn't lost on all — particularly black Arkansans such as Rep. Fred Love of Little Rock, who fought to end the Lee holiday and sees the Capitol statues, erected without thought of black people, through a different lens.

The Arkansas statues perpetuate historic misunderstanding. Arkansas was a frontier state with divided loyalties, not a unilateral defender of Dixie, such as Mississippi or Alabama. Many of those who wave the battle flag today don't realize this.

The National Historic Register application on the Confederate soldiers' monument makes clear the sentiments behind its erection 40 years after the end of the Civil War.

State and private contributions financed the sculpture (by a Frenchman). The drive was championed by an Arkansas Gazette editor and Confederate veteran. On the day of unveiling, the Gazette wrote of a parade that included "the remnants of the greatest army the world has ever seen." (Second greatest, maybe?) A band played "Dixie." The legislator who sponsored the funding proclaimed the state had "no excuses to make, no apologies to offer." He said the statue was a testimonial of "our unconditional and unqualified endorsement" of the Confederacy. Gov. Jeff Davis called the statue an altar "to the cause we each know was right, the cause of the Confederacy." Featured orator Col. A.S. Morgan said the Confederate cause "is neither a lost cause, nor will the Confederate soldier be forgotten."

Mitch Landrieu chose to remember that other people were involved in the Civil War. He said, "The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered."

Breathes there a white Arkansas politician who'd call for removal of shrines here and utter such words in defense? CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column said it was in Rep. Fred Love's district. It is in Rep. Warwick Sabin's district.

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