Meet the Multiracial Defenders Of Confederate Memorials
African Americans and Native Americans are standing with the defenders of Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Photojournalist Abdul Aziz crossed the battle lines to find out why.
By Brentin Mock – May 1, 2017
Back in December 2015, the New Orleans city council voted to remove several Confederate monuments, but the city is only now getting around to dismantling them. Lawsuits from organizations seeking to preserve these white supremacist memorials jammed that process up, as did threats made to potential contractors. In March, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals finalized orders to have the controversial monuments removed. The first monument—an obelisk dedicated to a massacre carried out by white supremacists to prevent racial integration during Reconstruction—was taken down in the wee hours of Monday, April 24.
The legal battle may be over, but the debate goes on. On one side is the network of local activists called Take ‘Em Down NOLA, which has been leading the movement to remove these monuments from public view. On the other side are the Confederate defenders who have been camped out in front of the monuments for almost a week. There are three more monuments scheduled to come down, but the city has halted activity while the popular JazzFest is happening. Things have gotten testy; this past weekend, as Nola.com reports, “supporters and opponents of the monuments sparred beneath the statue of Jefferson Davis”—the next monument slated to come down.
New Orleans photojournalist Abdul Aziz was on hand to capture the fracas. However, he also spent some time getting to know the Confederate defenders themselves—a group that includes African Americans and Native Americans amongst its surprisingly diverse ranks. CityLab talked to Aziz to learn more about what he heard.
What’s striking about your photos is that you captured them in such civil light. Why was this important?
My objective here was just to tell the story from an objective standpoint, which is what I do. When I went to the Gaza Strip in 2013, I interviewed Hamas.
But my expectations were not to encounter as many people of color out there standing in support of the monuments. There were a couple of folks—native black New Orleanians—walking down the street who called the entire effort to bring them down stupid. “This is history,” they said. “You shouldn’t erase history.” This was a recurring theme from people of color, and that was a little startling for me.
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