The Battle of Liberty Place took place on September 14, 1874 in New Orleans. White supremacists, known as members of the White League, attempted to overthrow Louisiana’s Republican regime, and in so doing, attacked the city police, led by none other than former Confederate general James Longstreet, who was wounded in the ensuing clash. Three days later United States forces broke up the White League offensive and restored a semblance of order to the streets of the Crescent City.
Although the coup d’etat effort failed, many white Louisianans remembered it fondly, and in 1891 they erected a monument commemorating the clash at the head of Canal Street.
By the middle of the twentieth century, residents of New Orleans were increasingly embarrassed with this tribute to white supremacy in the midst of their city. Efforts were made to conceal the monument with vegetation, and eventually it was removed from Canal Street. One needed to walk north of Canal Street to find it in a location near a parking lot (which is where I encountered it years ago). The monument’s been in a relative state of disrepair, and graffiti artists and others have vandalized it more than once. New markers attempt to explain the monument in context, but that has done nothing to erase it as a point of controversy.
Currently New Orleans is debating what to do with several Confederate monuments as well as the Battle of Liberty Place monument. Despite the protests of those advocates of Confederate heritage who seek to deny any connection between the Confederacy and white supremacy, one could say that what happened in 1874 was a continuation of what had been going on in Louisiana for years … the use of violence to secure a white supremacist order (as the New Orleans riots of July 30, 1866, as well as the Colfax Massacre of April 13, 1873, and the Coushatta Massacre of August 25, 1874 suggested … the last-named served as a prelude for White League paramilitary operations the following month in New Orleans).
It was left to our favorite Confederate heritage group to deplore recent vandalism to the Liberty Place monument.
It is interesting to note that the Virginia Flaggers finally admit that a monument to white supremacist violence is part of the Confederate heritage they desire to honor. Rise up Dixie, indeed.
Oh … and just so you know … Susan Hathaway lives in Sandston … so guess who posted this? Remember that the next time someone tell you that she doesn’t celebrate white supremacy. All lives matter, indeed. Tell that to the victims of white supremacist violence during Reconstruction … for those lives didn’t matter, least of all to the Virginia Flaggers.
Thank you for this. I was not previously familiar with the history of this “monument”.
Ages ago, I had a nice conversation with a cab driver in New Orleans while looking for this.
He was a recent transplant to the city but seemed to know more of its history than most others I had encountered, and he was making an effective tour guide while some friends slept off their hangovers. I was using various landmarks from things I’d read to find certain locations relevant to my obsession of the time, and I was having trouble locating this one. He knew right where it was, but I could tell he was somewhat hesitant to take me there. After I explained why I wanted to find it, he relaxed and explained that “Klan types” were the only ones he’d run across who seemed to know it existed.
Unbeknownst to me, I was apparently asking about it shortly after it had been placed, and a lot of Duke’s acolytes were paying homage.
I have no point but wanted to share that. He was a nice man whose name I have sadly forgotten. Best cab driver/tour guide I’d ever had.
Given Hathaway’s appearance on a list of people supposedly affiliated with the Klan, her awareness of this monument (and her anger at it being defaced) is understandable.
If their past track record is any indication all that Susan and the flaggers did here was see a “monument” defaced and assumed it was a confederate monument to brave defenders (of slavery) and dug deep to find their moral outrage. Never was there any attempt made to discover the history behind the monument. I am not trying to defend them, I just don’t think they are that smart…nor do they care.
I think they have always professed ignorance to hide their behavior. Recall the permit for the first flag.
I know the white citizen’s council came to being in the 1950s due to Brown vs the board of education. But are there roots to that from the white league?
Check out what is #1 on Barnum’s list.
Any books that explore Longstreet’s role?
This situation is similar in some ways to the statue to Ben Tillman on the S.C. Statehouse grounds. Tillman was an utterly reprehensible individual and it’s embarrassing that there is a statue dedicated to his memory. However, the fact remains that many South Carolinians of the 1940s, when it was erected, and before, supported what Tillman stood for. In addition, Tillman was a driving force behind the state constitution of 1895, which sought to keep blacks from voting through complicated voting procedures, poll taxes and literacy tests, and also banned interracial marriages. The 1895 constitution codified much of the Jim Crowism that was taking place in the state, and would remain in place for at least the next 70 years.
So the question with monuments like that to Tillman and that to the “Battle of Liberty Place” is should they be removed, or should they be left in place (or possibly moved to another spot where people can still see them), but given appropriate historical context? Tillman was a bad guy, but his impact, unfortunately, is still felt today. I’m for educating people to let them know who’s at least partly responsible for some of the problems that exist today. I don’t think his statue needs to remain on the S.C. Statehouse grounds, though.
I think completely eliminating the “Liberty Place” statue gives a pass to those who participated in the events of September 1874. Too many incidents like Liberty Hill have been largely forgotten because there is nothing to bringing attention to them. With some context and explanation, it could be used as a point of education. It’s an ugly part of our history, but the event, and the fact that a later generation sought to highlight it, says something about what was going in Louisiana at that period.
I agree – getting rid of the monuments and commemorations of this sort makes it easier for people to pretend black voting suppression, attacks, lynchings, etc. didn’t happen or have been exaggerated. Giving them context and educational value helps to remind us today that it requires courage and vigilance to stop the white supremacists of today trying to hide behind “heritage”.
I hope that monument and all the others stand the test of time. Lets always remember the remembering of the Battle of Liberty Place.
For an absolutely terrifying fictional account of the riot see Ben Ames Williams, _Unconquered_ (1953). This was a sequel to his 1947 _House Divided_. They are the experiences of an extended Virginia family, with the heroine modeled after Mary Chesnut (Williams edited her _Diary from Dixie_). The first follows the family through the War and the second through early Reconstruction. Williams was married to a niece of James Longstreet’s second wife so the fictional family’s leader serves on Old Peter’s staff. Relevant there is one son riding with Mosby – and Williams tied in Mosby to John Wilkes Booth a generation before Tidwell et al. Douglas Freeman said that Williams’ narrative of the Appomattox Retreat in _House Divided_ was better than his own in his Lee biography. A particularly harrowing part is the mother dealing with the death of a son at First Manassas and having to prepare his body for burial.
I read both of Williams’ books and agree his description of the massacre was one of the most horrifying I have ever read. ‘ Unconquered’ was the title of the sequel. I recall Cinda preparing Clayton’s body for burial. The house she and her husband shared in Richmond was later the headquarters of Fitzgerald and Company. It is on Franklin at Fifth…think that is the correct number. A friend was the office manager and he spoke of showing Mr. Williams through the house. I especially enjoyed House Divided because the story featured so many places with which I was so familiar. Williams moved the Dewain home up to Grace Street in his book.
Fascinating, Betty! I knew his history was accurate — I had no idea his geography was equally accurate!
Guess who’s rounding out the year with her THIRD article in The First Freedom 🙂
I think the media is going to turn on the Flaggers soon.
I’m learning so much about the Susan Hathaway method.
David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, successfully sued for the return of this monument to public space, bringing it out of storage. The plaques placed with the monument in the 1970s to provide historical context did not “please” anyone, according to the cited article. Neither did those plaques educate anyone, apparently, or Duke would not have been successful. Hopefully. This speaks to the limitations of reinterpreting already existing monuments.
That said, I agree that monuments should not be torn down. They do serve as silent witnesses to history. The problem with reinterpretation is that the existing monument still occupies center stage, and the plaques seem to become mere footnotes. Contrast that with the NPS treatment of Sand Creek: reinterpretation takes a back seat to the history of the original event. Perhaps a new space in which the events at Liberty Place are accurately portrayed could be created and the old monument, along with accounts of its history, placed in that context. (If one already exists, I am not aware of it) That would be a powerful statement, in itself, proving that history cannot be silenced and that truth does, indeed, prevail in the end.
A New York Times article from 1992 is interesting in that it shows how the heritage not hate argument was used by David Duke and his followers, since Duke did not sue for the monument’s replacement directly, but through one of his supporters, a descendant of a participant in the Liberty Place uprising:
Also, the picture of Representative Avery Alexander in a chokehold by New Orleans police as he protests the monument’s replacement and a Confederate flag waves in the background says it all. The protest is in the 1990s, not the 1960s. Representative Avery is in his 80s. He marched with Dr. King. Yet here he is fighting this fight again, just as his political and, perhaps, actual ancestors fought it in 1874 and 1861.
If any Confederate from the past should be commemorated in this history, it should be Longstreet, not the participants in the uprising. Otherwise, it is hate, not heritage.