By Jennifer Hill
On Thursday, Oct. 19th, 2017, in the very last city in the American South to officially lower the Confederate flag at the end of the Civil War, the Caddo Parish Commission stunningly agreed, in a 7-to-5 vote, to remove a monument to the Confederacy from the prominent place where it has stood since 1906, in front of the parish courthouse in downtown Shreveport. As the votes flashed across blue monitors and Commission President Steven Jackson announced the historic outcome, many in the audience leapt to their feet and cheered. Some wept with joy. An elderly African-American woman sitting in a wheelchair at the front beamed broadly.
“That moment meant to me we were closing a very dark chapter in Caddo Parish,” Commission President Jackson, an African-American Democrat, told The Bayou Brief, “and it was a smoke signal to the rest of Louisiana and the country that we are a more inclusive, tolerant, and progressive parish than we were when an all-white police jury in 1903 agreed to place the monument.”
Commissioner Matthew Linn, a white Republican, was similarly adamant. “If the monument isn’t moved, the Caddo Parish Courthouse needs to be,” he said to The Bayou Brief.
But within hours of the vote, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s (UDC) Shreveport chapter filed suit to stop the monument from being moved.
Fifty years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant after the Battle of the Appomattox Court House, the UDC had raised funds and lobbied for local government support for the design and construction of the monument; the monument, they claim, belongs to them, not to the citizens of Caddo Parish or the commission.
The UDC argued the commission’s “vote to remove the monument violated (their) rights to free speech under the Constitution’s First Amendment, to due process under the Fifth Amendment, and to equal treatment under the law in the 14th Amendment.” The lawsuit also seeks a judgment declaring that the UDC Shreveport chapter owns the parcel of land on which the monument stands.
Although the minutes from a June 18, 1903 meeting of the Caddo Parish Police Jury, the governing parish authority at the time, show the jury did, in fact, vote to give the parcel of land to the UDC for the monument’s erection, there is no paper deed or record that evidences the transaction ever actually happened.
A week after the commission’s vote for removal, Jackie Nichols, a white woman in her mid-60s and the current president of the UDC Shreveport chapter, summarized to a local television station what she believes are the reasons the Confederate monument should stay in its current place. It honors Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War, she argued, and is therefore “a surrogate tombstone” for those killed and buried in unmarked graves away from their homes. She detailed the fundraising efforts beginning in 1891- before the UDC Shreveport chapter had been formed- to raise $10,000 (the equivalent of $275,000 today) and the parish governing authority’s vote to both donate the land to them for the monument and provide an additional $1,000 for its construction.
But Nichols also revealed a key problem with allowing Caddo’s Confederate monument to stay where it has been for the past 111 years. She quoted a speaker at monument’s 1906 dedication ceremony, Methodist Rev. Dr. W.T. Bolling:
The men who went forth to battle under this banner were not actuated by hate, by desire for conquest, or to maintain the institution of slavery, but battled for what they believed to be a great fundamental doctrine, a foundation principle in a government founded upon the consent of the governed.
This quote comes straight out of the false narrative that white Southern historians and former Confederate leaders constructed in the years after the Civil War, one that the UDC played a major part in embedding in the collective white Southern psyche. Historians have a name for this narrative, which glorifies the Confederacy’s role in the Civil War: “The Lost Cause.”
A must-see video by Vox, “How Southern socialites rewrote Civil War history,” summarizes the Lost Cause narrative’s three main tenets: 1) the Confederacy fought heroically and nobly to defend the Southern way of life in the face of overwhelming forces from the North; 2) slavery was a benevolent institution and most slaves were happy; 3) slavery was not the root cause of the Confederacy.
The UDC, in fact, had Confederate monuments built all over the South, a highly successful campaign that helped instill Lost Cause tenets in white Southern culture called the Civil War Commemorative Sculpture Movement. Jackie Nichols’s inclusion of an assertion by a speaker at the 1906 dedication of Caddo’s Confederate monument that men went to battle “not to maintain slavery” but because of an unnamed “foundation principle in a government founded upon the consent of the governed”– a government that included a large percentage of a population who could not give consent – demonstrates how intertwined a glorified and factually incorrect version of Civil War history is with these remaining Confederate monuments. Caddo’s monument exemplifies that false version of history.
But there is another even more troubling and patently absurd remark Nichols put in at the end of her statement (emphasis hers): “This monument could be seen as CELEBRATING the END of enslavement in America and the BEGINNING of freedom for the enslaved people, and for Women as well.”
As most of us recognize, the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves did not mean freedom for African-Americans, and it especially did not mean that in Caddo Parish.
In the decade following the Civil War, white men in Caddo Parish were killing and terrorizing African-Americans in such high numbers that the parish earned the name, “Bloody Caddo.”
In 1896, the same year the UDC Shreveport chapter formed and began raising funds to have the Caddo Confederate monument constructed, violence surged again across Caddo and the state of Louisiana to stop African-Americans from voting for the Republican-Populist candidate for governor. In 1903, when the UDC Shreveport chapter was lobbying the police jury for financial and political support for the monument’s construction, African-Americans had been almost completely disenfranchised, and whites were institutionalizing a system of white supremacy that would leave African-Americans with very few freedoms.
Yet the history of what was happening to blacks in Caddo Parish at that time was all but silenced until the late 1960s, and even after that was subsumed to the Lost Cause narrative, which metaphorically and literally whitewashed the history surrounding Caddo’s Confederate monument.
The monument, in its current place outside the courthouse, stands for a false and romanticized myth that dominated the historical narrative for far too long. If this monument and monuments like it are finally removed, the Lost Cause narrative will no longer have a hold on Southern culture. Instead of honoring history, Caddo’s monument distorts, perverts, and glorifies the most hateful, bloodiest, and ugliest 212 of the 12,598 weeks that have passed since America declared its independence on July 4th, 1776.
If you’re on the 500 block of Texas Street in downtown Shreveport, the monument is impossible to miss. It is thirty feet high and stands at the head of the center walkway that leads to the courthouse’s front entrance. Made of marble and granite, the monument has a seven-foot high statue of a young Confederate soldier standing on a pedestal at the top. The soldier is surrounded by busts of four Confederate generals on a lower pedestal: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard, a Louisiana general, and Henry Watkins Allen, another Louisiana general and Louisiana governor in 1864 until the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. A life-sized statue of Clio, the muse of history, points to a book, which is inscribed with, “Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 1905, Love’s Tribute to Our Gallant Dead. Shreveport Chapter 237.”
The UDC Shreveport chapter wanted a Confederate monument that would serve several purposes. One was to honor the Civil War veterans who were aging while they were still alive. Another was, as the book inscription says, to honor soldiers from Caddo Parish who died in the war by having it serve as a cenotaph, “a sepulchral monument erected in memory of deceased persons whose bodies are buried elsewhere.” (The federal government only paid to have bodies of Union soldiers killed in the war transported back to their homes for burial. Confederate soldiers were usually buried where they had died, in unmarked graves).
For Caddo Parish specifically, the monument would also mark a historically significant event by being built on the spot where the last Confederate flag on land was lowered on May 26, 1865, signifying the official surrender of the Confederacy. That spot, described in a commemorative plaque in front of the monument, was in front of Caddo Parish’s first courthouse which “became the Confederate capital of Louisiana and headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department, from 1863 to May 26, 1865.” This important historical marker was part of the reason the Caddo Confederate monument was entered into the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on January 29, 2014.
The monument’s NRHP registration form notes that the monument is “one of four major Louisiana monuments representing what is known by historians as ‘the Cult of the Lost Cause.’” It is placed in “Phase II” of the Commemorative Sculpture movement, known as “the Celebration of the Confederacy,” when “a particularly popular form of veneration was the memorial” usually erected in a park of by a courthouse. An important part of the UDC’s Sculpture Movement was to have Confederate monuments erected near or in prominent public spaces. People wanting or needing to access or walk by those public spaces had to experience the monuments’ inclusion in them, whether they wanted to or not. In this way, the monuments became a permanent, integral, and almost seamless part of civic life and the built environment.
Another reason for making the monuments so easily accessible and part of civic life was laid out bluntly in Caddo’s Confederate monument NRHP registration form:
The monuments to the Confederate leaders and the common soldier allowed the war generation to etch their devotion to the cause in stone and to pass on to those who could not read, especially the children, the need to preserve history, to indoctrinate the future generations with a romanticized version of the past. Southern women realized that the next generation would not have the same emotional and personal ties to the war as those who had lived through it, so it became their burden to modify celebrations of the Confederacy into terms that the future generations could best understand.
As the Vox video points out, the UDC did not rely on just imposing Confederate monuments in public spaces to indoctrinate future generations. Its members campaigned to have the Lost Cause version of Civil War history the only one taught in schools throughout the South up until the mid-1960s by getting school boards “to reject any [history] textbooks that did not ‘accord full justice to the South’” and by closely monitoring “history books to make sure ‘Northern Influence’ never reached the classrooms.”
To reinforce the teachings of Lost Cause history, the UDC formed auxiliary groups called the “Children of the Confederacy,” which were usually set up as after-school programs. One of the main activities of the Children of the Confederacy groups was to memorize and recite the Confederate Catechism, a booklet written in 1929 by Lyon Tyler, the son of U.S. President John Tyler. The Confederate Catechism contains the core beliefs of, you guessed it, the Lost Cause.
There aren’t many children who learn the Confederate Catechism anymore, and the UDC does not have a big presence now, with just 20,000 members in the country (in the early 1900s, the UDC had 100,000 members.) However, the UDC’s campaign to embed the Lost Cause’s tenets in the Southern and the national conscience, with its education campaign and the Commemorative Sculpture movement, was wildly successful. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 48% of respondents believed the main cause of the Civil War was “over a difference of interpretation in constitutional law,” while 38% thought it was “the South’s defense of an economic system based on slavery.” 39% of black respondents believed the differences-over-constitutional law reason. In the public hearings held by the Caddo Commission’s Monument Advisory Committee, there were echoes of the Lost Cause narrative in most of the comments made by those opposed to moving the monument.
The glaring failure to acknowledge what African-Americans experienced in Caddo Parish after the Civil War has greatly helped in maintaining a belief in the Lost Cause historical narrative. The killing, terrorizing, and suppression of blacks at that time could not be told or emphasized over the past 111 years because the Lost Cause narrative would fall apart. Many of the “heroic” Confederate veterans in Caddo Parish that the Confederate monument was built to honor and who, according to a keynote speaker at the 1906 dedication ceremony, did not go to battle to maintain slavery but did form paramilitary units that hunted, tortured and lynched blacks after the war. The whitewashed history and the grim, real history cannot be reconciled.
How, exactly, did Caddo Parish become known as “Bloody Caddo”?
After the Civil War, there were two documented periods in which large numbers of whites murdered and terrorized blacks. One was the decade immediately after the Civil War. Whites, angry and fearful of blacks now having the right to vote and serve on juries, terrorized and lynched blacks all over the South.
Louisiana was the most violent state, and Caddo Parish was the most violent parish. According to a 1991 article, “Bloody Caddo: White Violence against Blacks in a Louisiana Parish, 1865-1876” by Gilles Vandal, out of a total of 3,494 recorded homicides in Louisiana statewide, 566 homicides were in Caddo Parish. African Americans were 85% of homicide victims and 84% of them were murdered by whites.
An astonishing 70% percent of black victims were killed by more than one white person. Vandal writes that whites formed well-organized “reconstituted Confederacy military units of fifty to two hundred men riding together” and turned the parish into “a hunting ground.” Whites would drag black men out of their homes to wooded areas and either kill them or order them to leave right then without anything but the clothes on their back. Most of the men who led the reconstituted Confederacy military units were from wealthy and upper middle class families; in other words, these were respected leaders in the parish. Vandal notes too that whites in Caddo “more than in any other parish or region, largely rallied behind the calls for white solidarity.” The Shreveport Times, the region’s major newspaper, regularly urged whites in Caddo and surrounding parishes to participate in the violence.
Vandal argues whites in Caddo Parish reacted more violently both to freed slaves’ new civil rights after the Civil War and federal control of the region than in other areas of the South because Caddo and nearby parishes made up the only region in Louisiana that was spared in the war.
“The parish did not live through the terror, famine, and other sufferings brought by the war; no rebuilding, no repair or reconstruction needed to be done there,” he observed. “Moreover, the war had brought great prosperity to the parish, as Shreveport became the capital of Confederate Louisiana after the fall of New Orleans.” Thus, whites in Caddo Parish “stubbornly opposed the federal government and its reconstruction policy and…strongly resented the presence of federal troops, particularly when those occupying forces were composed of black regiment.”
Since blacks made up 70% of Caddo Parish’s population after the war, according to Vandal, whites also feared losing their power now that blacks could vote. Most of whites’ attacks on blacks in the decade after the war were politically motivated. Violence surged in the months and weeks leading up to the 1868 and 1874 presidential elections, with white paramilitary groups targeting politically active blacks and white Republicans during the two presidential election years. According to Vandal, “at least 290 homicides (51% of the total number) occurred during those two [election] years” and “no less than 220 blacks (74%) (were) killed by whites” at the time. Other methods of intimidation were to deny blacks jobs and leases and to ostracize white Republicans, which were likely to make them and their families homeless or even in danger of starvation. The number of black families left Northwest Louisiana after relatives or friends were killed or just from fear they would be is unknown.
In an amicus brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2011 related to a black man convicted of murder in Caddo Parish, the ACLU notes that whites who lynched and terrorized African-Americans faced no punishment whatsoever. Congress eventually passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, outlawing racial discrimination in jury service. The hope was more attackers would be brought to justice and that would lead to a decrease in violence against blacks.
In Louisiana, however, juries remained largely all or almost all white because of courts often rigging jury selection to keep African-Americans off of juries.
Violence against blacks surged again across Louisiana in the run-up to the 1896 gubernatorial election. African-Americans were then over 60% of the state’s population and were posed to vote for the Republican-Populist ticket. White Democrats in Louisiana used violence, intimidation, and fraud to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote.
While white women in the UDC were finding new political and social power in launching the Commemorative Sculpture Movement, African-American women were being beaten with barbed wire by white men “to intimidate families inclined to support the Republican-Populist ticket.” Although the majority of votes in the gubernatorial election went for the Republican-Populist ticket because of African American support, Louisiana Democrats reportedly doctored the results and won. In 1898, a Constitutional Convention convened by the Louisiana government imposed “crippling educational and property qualifications that resulted in the official disfranchisement of Louisiana African-Americans,” Vandal notes.
Another period of intense white-on-black violence in Caddo Parish occurred between 1877 and 1950, which the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) documented in its study, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” In this study of lynchings in 12 states, Caddo Parish had 45 recorded lynchings of black Americans by enraged mobs, the third highest number in the nation. EJI notes, “Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials…. many African-Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators.” EJI argues lynching was an instrument of terror that was used to “enforce racial subordination and segregation.”
Associate professor of history at LSU-Shreveport Dr. Gary Joiner believes the actual number of lynchings to be much higher.
When the Caddo Parish Police Jury voted to support the UDC Shreveport’s Confederate monument construction in 1903, black men were already essentially disenfranchised. John Ratcliff, one of the Caddo Commission’s Monument Advisory Committee’s members wrote in a Shreveport Times op-ed, published the day before the commission’s vote on the monument, that the Caddo Parish Police Jury’s vote in 1902 to allow the Confederate monument to be built in front the a public courthouse “did not fairly or justly represent the citizens of the parish.” He noted that in 1902, “the parish had 15 ‘colored voters.’”
“If blacks had been able to vote,” Ratcliff argued, “it is highly likely they would have voted for different candidates to sit on the CPPJ, ones who would have likely not voted in support of the UDC’s Confederate monument proposal.”
No monument has been built commemorating the African-Americans killed by whites during the Bloody Caddo period or afterward.
No gravestones have been placed at sites where African-Americans were lynched or at a site commemorating those buried in unknown places.
Since 1906, African-Americans have had to look at a monument that honors those who fought to preserve the enslavement of their ancestors, in front of a courthouse where justice is supposed to be meted out fairly.
Until at least the mid-1960s, African-Americans had to be silent about the murder, terrorizing, and brutal repression of their ancestors at the hands of whites at the time the UDC campaigned for and succeeded in having the Confederate monument built.
“A monument that stands for injustice has no place in front of an institution of justice,” Commission President Jackson said to The Bayou Brief. “Caddo Parish leads the country in sending African-Americans to death row. We must turn the page on the supremacy that monument stands for.”
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