Posted on October 29, 2021

As Confederate Statues Fall, Build Monuments to Black Heroes at Risk of Being Forgotten

Howard W. French, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2021

On the night of Jan. 8, 1811, a mixed-race man named Charles Deslondes led a group of people in an attack on a plantation owner in lower Louisiana that became the largest uprising of enslaved people in American history, and the first that required the intervention of the U.S. Army.


Through courage and wile, the rebels managed to resist or elude attacks by white militias, but were finally caught by the Army and local vigilantes in an open field the next morning. {snip} Knowing that they would be slaughtered, Deslondes ordered his men into a close line of battle and told them to steel themselves for the final charge, not wasting the scarce ammunition in their old muskets until they could clearly see the faces of the white men galloping toward them on horseback to wipe them out.


Deslondes and his men deserve to be honored as some of the greatest heroes of American liberty. Among those who survived that brutal final charge, the tightknit group of co-leaders of this revolt refused to bear witness against one another and betray their cause, for which Deslondes had his arms chopped off and his legs broken and was shot before his body was put on a spit and publicly roasted.

The only monument to the German Coast Uprising that I could find was at the privately owned Whitney Plantation, near the site of these events and badly damaged by Hurricane Ida. {snip}

The scarce public commemoration of Deslondes and his freedom fighters is emblematic of a much larger crisis of memory. Enslaved people brought from Africa and their descendants played a central role in the rise of the United States and of the West in general, and indeed in the winning of their own freedom in the Civil War.

A related injustice is being addressed as governments and institutions remove grotesque monuments to the likes of Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun, militant defenders of slavery. But this must be seen as merely the first of two necessary acts. The second is to elevate African American history and heroes to their proper public place, recognizing their role at the very center of American history and their long, lonely struggle to realize this country’s most hallowed ideals.

One should not have to seek out a destination like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to encounter this history; monuments to African American individuals and their causes should pepper city streets and the halls of power like Confederate statues once did.