Earlier this month, after a round of hearings a citizens advisory committee probing the question of whether to evict the statuary commemorating “The Lost Cause” reached a strange pseudo-climax. After a document recommended its removal circulated prior to the meeting announcing that as its decision, the committee postponed the actual gathering because of the absence of one member even though it had a quorum to proceed.
This seemed to reflect a struggle among members as to what to recommend mirroring the fate of the written product. Apparently, mimicking the most contentious and significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions, multiple drafts, all with the possibility of catching majority assent to become the final ruling, circulated among members almost up to the point of the meeting’s convening.
The Caddo Parish Confederate Monument, listed on the National Register of Historical Places since 2014, is considered one of the four monuments in Louisiana that depict feelings prevalent in the first part of the twentieth century which glorified the rebellion, three of which have a listing. Not that this helped matters for the others, all in New Orleans; recently, the city unceremoniously uprooted these, arguing those represented unsavory attitudes.
That was the wrong decision. Those monuments had become iconic parts of the New Orleans landscape, part of its culture and lore, and even subjects of postcards. Even if each glorified a figure associated with a regime built upon a very unfortunate truth, the city could have repackaged each, through signage or other means, to convey a fully contextualized meaning for all s opposed to scarifying the environment. That officials instead chose to let these have power over them rather than shape these symbols to supply their own meaning speaks volumes to a lack of fortitude and leadership.
And, if anything, the case to excise Caddo’s version is weaker, much more than that which in 2012 led to the striking of the colors that flew with it. In that case, all the salutary features of the states’ rights argument encapsulated in the Constitution presumably part of the rationale justifying the Confederate revolt find representation in Old Glory. If governments or people want to express support of those ideas, why not fly the U.S. flag instead of a Confederate flag polluted with its affirmation for slavery?
Note that the Caddo monument does not memorialize a particular individual, unlike the cases in New Orleans, but a specific period. Further, its importance lies not so much in that it salutes the efforts of the Confederacy as an independent state and its military actions to secure that sovereignty, but as an object displaying the mindset of those people who erected it and glorified the concept of the antebellum South for decades after – more an archeological device with anthropological significance.
Still, it also serves as a historical marker, even if never intended primarily for that reason, as the approximate place where a Confederate flag last flew over a state capital, weeks after its national capital had fallen. When Union forces invaded Louisiana in 1862, state government operations transferred to Shreveport, and the surrender of the last major Confederate army formally occurred at that location over a month after Appomattox.
Retaining it certainly does not mean leaving it as is. Appropriate signs can explain the reasons for its existence and its meaningfulness in the context of the century after the Civil War’s end. Plus, it’s an aesthetically pleasing object to view designed and placed so that people can inspect it closely, unlike with the New Orleans statues that, because of their placements on busy byways not really close to pedestrian traffic, afforded little chance for the passer-by to partake in a detailed and lingering look.
Ostensibly at some point the committee will make a decision about the monument’s fate for the Caddo Parish Commission to ponder. Regardless of that, the Commission should make no move to banish this work of art.