This entry is Confederate memorialization in Minden, Louisiana, and it involves the distant past as well as the present day. The topic of Confederate memorials is being discussed across teh country and anyone can see frequent news coverage about the controversy generated by these monuments. The subject is whether Confederate statues and symbols should be moved or completely removed from public spaces. Do these symbols represent history, or a few organizations' and individuals' interpretations of the past?
This local history of Minden, Louisiana began on January 19,
1933. On this date, the
Confederate Soldiers’ Memorial at Jacqueline Park in Minden was commissioned by
the Minden Chapter of the United Daughters of Confederacy. Mrs. S.F.
Martin, President of the Minden organization during the time, said it
will be made of Italian marble and was carved in Italy. The soldier statue was constructed with a granite base, and the large statue was designed to beautify the Minden park that would serve as the monument's home. With two bases, and standing at 8-feet tall, the Confederate soldier is standing at attention and holding a rifle.
According to historians Charles Reagan Wilson and Karen L. Cox, among many others, the first wave of Confederate memorialization began in the 1880s and lasted until the 1920s. During this time, several organizations formed and spread throughout the South, especially the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Its members spread an ideology of a Lost Cause, insisting that the Confederacy fought a just war against Yankee invaders. And historians also explain that groups like the UDC tried to explain Southerners' defeat during the Civil War. In the process, the UDC and Sons of Confederate Veterans succeeded in rewriting the history of that conflict, relegating slavery and its expansion as subordinate or minor causes to the conflict. Developing out of the Lost Cause movement of the early twentieth century was a cult of Confederate generals in which Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were morally pure individuals who heroically fought for the South's freedom from Yankee tyranny.
This date that the Minden Confederate monument was erected,
January 19, 1933 was also the birthday of Robert E. Lee. It is for this reason that Louisiana and other former Confederate states honored people like Lee and Jackson on Confederate Memorial Day. It remains a public holiday observed in Alabama,
Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. The holiday avoids any connection to the South's economic and social institution of slavery.
In Minden, many believe that the Confederate monument is a part of history that should honor the Confederate soldiers and
their families who were among those who fought the Civil War. Most of the town's
white population sees the monument as a symbol to Southern bravery and honor. Few would acknowledge that the Confederacy was a white supremacist experiment in the South. White
supremacy is the idea that whites are superior to all other races. The Minden Chapter of the UDC wanted to keep reminders of the Confederacy and white supremacy alive in the Jim Crow South, and this is probably why they spent the money and took the time to dedicate the monument with a band and a large public audience in 1933.
The monument and other Confederate symbols on display in Minden have been viewed negatively by the town's majority black population. Kenneth Wallace, the President
of the Minden NAACP, said “I’ve advocated for years
personally against the Confederate flag,” he said. “It’s offensive to me
because of the reasons it was founded on. Its offensive because of what my ancestors
went through. It’s a misrepresentation, and it’s really sad to me that it takes
the deaths of nine people to really start looking into that.” Wallace was also responding to the deaths of black worshipers murdered at church in June 2015 by Dylan Roof, a Confederate flag waver and proponent of white supremacy.
Since the Confederate soldier statute was erected in the early 1930s, there has been attempts to have the monument removed. A black spokesperson said, “This monument
is just a symbol of racism being present in Minden.” This is the opinion of many blacks who hold a consensus view among American historians that
the Civil War as a fight to keep slavery in the South and to expand it to newly created western states.
The Confederate monument was erected in Minden just 13 years before one of the town's most horrific and known instance of racial violence in the Jim Crow era. In 1946, John Cecil
Jones, an African American World War II veteran fell victim to a white lynch mob in Minden and the neighboring town of Dixie Inn, Louisiana. The only lynching that
took place in Louisiana that year, Jones and another African American, Albert Harris, Jr., were targeted by a white mob because of a land deal that involved both men's families. As historian Adam Fairclough explains in his award winning book Race & Democracy, Jones's grandfather had been tricked to hand over the oil-rich land to Premier Oil Company that operated several oil wells in Webster Parish. After returning home following service in Europe during the Second World War, Jones began asking pointed questions about the land deal. In August 1946, the white mob led by Sam Maddry, Jr., told Webster Parish sheriff deputies that Jones and Harris raped his wife. The sheriff's deputies, Oscar Haynes and Charles Edwards turned Jones and Harris over to the mob led by Maddry. The two black men were physically tortured, but Harris escaped, fled the state, and became a chief witness in a federal investigation and NAACP investigation of the racial violence. Jones, however, was lynched and his body was dredged from nearby Dorcheat Bayou. The subsequent federal investigation brought negative national attention to Louisiana and Minden--and remains a sore subject in the town today.
In June 2015, shortly after the Dylan Roof murders of African Americans during a church service, Wallace and the Minden NAACP appealed to town authorities for removal of the Confederate statue at Jacqueline Park. They approached the town council, which rebuffed the NAACP's calls for removal of the monument. The NAACP then requested that a monument to Jones's 1946 lynching be placed next to the Confederate statue, and the town council replied that the NAACP was living in the past, refusing to allow such a monument to Jones and other victims of racial violence in North Louisiana.
During the Civil War, Minden and North Louisiana remained in Confederate control for much of the conflict, and many men from the area served in both Confederate and Union armies. After the war beginning in the 1880s, North Louisiana including Webster Parish was the most violent place in the nation for African Americans. Hundreds of black citizens were murdered in very public spectacle lynchings between the 1880s and early 1900s, and Webster Parish was the site for at least five lynchings before Jones's murder in 1946. White southerners are too quick to remember and honor the Confederate past, but act as if the violence of the Jim Crow era perpetrated against African Americans is not worthy of memorialization. All of the controversy over Louisiana's past would wane if residents could reach some kind of racial reconciliation by acknowledging the violence whites committed in service of white supremacy and white domination.