New Orleans served as ground zero for the displacement of these historical objects, with the dispatching of a pair of items listed on the National Register of Historical Places and a couple of others. Shreveport has seen lengthy discussion of another Register object’s fate, with some decision – even if to punt on the issue – coming soon. Within the past couple of years, calls to remove statuary in Alexandria, Lafayette and Lake Charles went unheeded.
So, despite all the publicity surrounding the New Orleans uprootings, outside of there almost nothing has changed, with these objects still holding forth on public property. And from this we can understand why what happened in New Orleans did, with next to no replication elsewhere in Louisiana.
Actually, in a number of places little to no controversy has sprung up around the objects. Counting only those on non-private property that don’t have a connection to a nearby Civil War military action, besides these cities Confederate monuments stand guard in Franklin, Homer, Opelousas, Plaquemine, St. Francisville, and Tallulah, all around parish courthouses. Only in the case of Tallulah’s has occurred even a mention that the parish consider doing something with it.
Finally, consider that Baton Rouge quietly moved one indoors a few years ago in response to traffic alterations. No one seemed to agitate for or against its dislodging.
Reviewing all of these, a few things stand out. First, mostly the ones that depict, at least in part, actual Civil War figures have come under fire. For the likes of Gens. Robert E. Lee, P.G.T Beauregard, and Alfred Mouton, it becomes easier to lobby against them given distinct actions in their lives – unavoidably their military service in the rebellion – that supported slavery or the Confederacy that endorsed slavery.
Only a couple of more the generic (a few of which were mass produced around the turn of the century, including Baton Rouge’s) have faced criticism, in larger jurisdictions. Regardless, no officials except in New Orleans authorized removals for political reasons. In all the other cases, a minority of blacks serve on the appropriate governing authority (consolidated government, parish commission, or police jury).
Typically, that follows predictable electoral patterns: a black majority comes from a black majority of residents in the jurisdiction. But population proportions actually don’t appear to matter as much as the size of that population. Two of the smaller-populated parishes with unmolested statues have slight white majorities, while Claiborne has a black majority although blacks comprise a minority of the police jury, and Madison has a black majority both in population and in representation on its police jury.
Critically, action happens by the interaction among the object’s depiction, the size of the population, and representation concerning its governing institutions. Statues received little or no notice in many places because, simply, regardless of the population’s racial composition, a critical mass of protesters so invested in ordering their lives around symbols could not form among relatively few people, aided by whether the objects memorialized real people that could be made into bogeymen. That, in a relative sense, removal costs proportionally would increase the smaller the jurisdiction also should ameliorate passions to remove.
In areas with larger populations, movements form to bring the matter to discussion especially where it involves a real-life figure. But only where a sufficiently large, ideologically-charged subset of the population meets with a compliant governing institution that shares its values and willing to find money to make the moves, as in New Orleans, does a government act against the objects.
That dynamic, an interesting mix of the pragmatic, political, and personal, means few if any future evictions should occur. Thus, Louisiana will keep more than discard these reminders of its conflicted past.