Watching a Confederate Monument's Removal: One of Many Battles to Come in a Nation of Alternative Facts

By Nicholas Mitchell 

I arrived at Lee Circle just before 10:15 on the night before the statue was scheduled to be removed. Amid the smells of cigarette smoke, the street, sweat, and the murmur of bad historical arguments beneath the beating of drums, I glanced up at the likeness of Lee cast against the fast-moving clouds of a humid New Orleans night. As I stood there looking at the oxidized face of Robert E. Lee illuminated by the blue strobe of police lights, I realized that one day we will have to do the hardest thing a previous generation can do for a rising one: give them the proper context. America doesn’t really do well with context.

In this current round of the debate about Confederate iconography, context is lost. There are no participation trophies in the South; they are victory trophies celebrating the collapse of Reconstructed governments. The Lee statue, the first of the four monuments, was erected in 1884; and the final monument, to P.G.T. Beauregard, was erected in 1915. The dedications of the four monuments are book-ended by the 1883 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that made racial discrimination in any public accommodation or service illegal and the release of the film "Birth of a Nation" in 1915. The film sparked the resurgence and rise of the Ku Klux Klan to a national political power and terrorist group. The context makes it clear that these statues enshrine a promise to maintain white supremacy; and if one looks around Louisiana and America, that promise has been kept.