New Orleans Antebellum, Civil War, & Reconstruction History at the Cabildo in Jackson Square

I’m feeling quite out of sorts with all the moving and things this week, but today, after a brief stop at the old place to clean out a cabinet and collect my security deposit, I am done. For now. What I need is a little normalcy, so I took myself out on the bike to meet friends for some work at the coffee shoppe and then to the Cabildo for a little Louisiana history. I’ve visited the Cabildo a bunch of times, being a card-carrying member and all (brag), but I haven’t visited since I finished that book about the history of Reconstruction, and I was in the mood to remember how we’re remembering this stuff in New Orleans. I locked my bike up to a signpost since we still don’t have proper bicycle parking in the French Quarter even though there are zillion bike rides through the Quarter every day, and headed in. I snapped this photo of the entryway that introduces the themes on the third floor because these pictures capture the ways each period is often represented. The Antebellum period (called elsewhere in the museum a time of “a medley of cultures”) is represented by agriculture, a single worker engaged in the harvest. The Civil War is represented by brave soldiers at attention. Reconstruction (called elsewhere in the museum “the ordeal of Reconstruction”) is represented by a riot in the streets of Jackson Square. There’s a narrative here that isn’t undone by the seemingly objective history trotted out in the following three rooms–a romanticization of some aspects of the antebellum South, a romanticization of Civil War soldiers, with just as much wall space reserved for the stories of Black soldiers fighting for the Confederacy as anything else, and Reconstruction as a violent and bloody mess that was destined to fail. Oh, and then there’s the Colfax Riots versus the Coushatta Massacre, both of which are ugly instances of white supremacist violence, but Riot and Massacre sure suggest different responsible agents–I recommend doing a little reading about them. There’s a politics to how we remember, and these signs are part of that politics, whether the people who picked them think so or not, and we best be paying attention to what’s being told in the official memory books. I left the museum and sat outside in the Square, talking to J. on the phone about this and that, when I saw a cop on horseback charge up the few small steps of the Cabildo, driving out a couple people sitting there and drinking afternoon beers. Not good for the look of the Square, I guess. There’s a politics to who gets be part of the living tableaux of Jackson Square in the present–best pay attention to that as well. I got back on my bike, stopped for a bite, and rode to my new home, feeling much, much more like myself and ready to write a couple of Strongly Worded Letters.

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