P. G. T. Beauregard

A white Confederate general can learn from experience that it does society better to recognize the equality of minority races.

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SOURCENationofChange

I’ve been thinking a lot about Black Lives Matter and all the protests. Not to mention the racism in the U.S. Recently, Occupy Democrats sent out a film about protests involving a motion in New Orleans to unname a school bearing Robert E. Lee’s name. (It was successful; the film was of a very angry black person laying into the school board, and it went viral).

This made me start thinking about Creoles, which, as you know, include a group of “Creoles of color”  A lot of very famous musicians, like my favorite, Jelly Roll Morton. I started thinking about why those Creoles don’t become group that would help Americans get rid of racism. Then I ran across P. G. T. Beauregard, who was a Creole but not of color. Born in Louisiana, “Beauregard befriended and played with slave boys his own age, and was weaned as a baby by a Dominican slave woman.[3] He grew up in a large one-story house, unlike the “later plantation palaces, but a mansion of aristocracy by the standards of its time.”[4] Beauregard would hunt and ride in the woods and fields around his family’s plantation and paddled his boat in its waterways.[5] Beauregard attended New Orleans private schools and then went to a “French school” in New York City. During his four years in New York, beginning at age 12, he learned to speak English, as French had been his first and only language in Louisiana.

He joined the U.S. military and had a long service. “Employing the political influence of his brother-in-law, John Slidell, Beauregard obtained an appointment as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy on January 23, 1861. His orders were revoked and he relinquished the office after only five days when Louisiana seceded from the Union. He protested to the War Department that they had cast “improper reflection upon [his] reputation or position in the Corps of Engineers” by forcing him out as a Southern officer before any hostilities began.”

He went home and became the first general in the Confederate States army. He was involved in the attack on  Fort Sumter and a number of other famous battles. At the end of the war, he and another general convinced Jefferson David to surrender.

“After the war, Beauregard was reluctant to seek amnesty as a former Confederate officer by publicly swearing an oath of loyalty, but both Lee and Johnston counseled him to do so, which he did before the mayor of New Orleans on September 16, 1865. He was one of many Confederate officers issued a mass pardon by President Andrew Johnson on July 4, 1868. His final privilege as an American citizen, the right to run for public office, was restored when he petitioned the Congress for relief and the bill on his behalf was signed by President Grant on July 24, 1876.”

“Immediately after the Civil War, after being insulted and ridiculed in his own community, losing the right to vote, and becoming outraged in learning that properties he owned before the war just outside of the city limits of Memphis had been confiscated by the Freedman’s bureau and developed into houses for blacks and a schoolhouse, he wrote letters to his friend John Slidell about his opinion on the emancipated black population. He wrote that the colored people were inferior, ignorant, and indolent. He predicted “that in seventy-five years the colored race would disappear from America along with the Indians and the buffalo” and a more historically-accurate one in which blacks would be controlled by the whites politically; blacks had not yet voted in the South, and it did not appear to him that they would.”

However, within a few years his attitude changed.  “In March 1867 Radical Republicans enforced black suffrage, as many Southerners became excited and resistant, and Beauregard wrote a widely published public letter that advised Southerners to accept the new situation. He said that the South could either submit or resist and that sensibly resistance is futile. He saw that through the colored right to vote and cooperation, the excesses of Radical Republican reconstruction like the burden of heavy taxation could be overcome and create a better future for the South. His pragmatic change in opinion is illustrated when he wrote that “the Negro is Southern born; with a little education and some property qualifications he can be made to take sufficient interest in the affairs and prosperity of the South to insure an intelligent vote.”

“Beauregard approached Lieutenant Governor C.C. Antoine, who was a black Republican and invited fifty leading white and fifty black families to join together for a meeting on June 16, 1873. The fifty white sponsors were leaders of the community in business, legal, and journalistic affairs and the presidents of almost every corporation and bank in the city attended. The black sponsors were the wealthy, cultured Creoles of color who were well-off and had been free before the war. Beauregard was the chairman of the resolutions committee. Beauregard spoke at the meeting:

“I am persuaded that the natural relation between the white and colored people is that of friendship, I am persuaded that their interests are identical; that their destinies in this state, where the two races are equally divided are linked together, and that there is no prosperity in Louisiana that must not be the result of their cooperation. I am equally convinced that the evils anticipated by some men from the practical enforcement of equal rights are mostly imaginary, and that the relation of the races in the exercise of these rights will speedily adjust themselves to the satisfaction of all.”

“The result of the meeting was a report that “advocated complete political equality for blacks, an equal division of state offices between the races, and a plan where blacks would become land owners. It denounced discrimination because of color in hiring laborers or in selecting directors of corporations, and called for the abandonment of segregation in public conveyances, public places, railroads, steams, and public schools.” Beauregard argued that blacks “already had equality and the whites had to accept that hard fact.” [76][74]

“Beauregard lived a paradoxical life; instead of what he seemed to be and the cause of the South for which he fought, unlike many ex-Confederates, he did not look back on “the planting South and the mellow glories of the ancient regime” but looked toward the future of the international house of Louisiana, to the industrial district of New Orleans, and a bustling delta of a better tomorrow.[77]

“Beauregard was admired by many because of his work after the war, and when he went to a meeting Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1889, he was given the title by a local reporter of “the Sir Galahad of Southern Chivalry.” A Northerner at the meeting welcomed Beauregard, commenting on the fact that 25 years ago, the North “did not feel very kindly toward him; but the past was dead and now they admired him.” Beauregard responded by saying “As to my past life, I have always endeavored to do my duty under all circumstances, from the point I entered West Point, a boy of seventeen, up to the present.” He was then loudly applauded.[78]

It seems to me that his Creole background may have helped turn him around. Anyway, he is now celebrated as a civil rights advocate even though he was a Confederate general. To me, that sort of story should help turn white racists in another direction—and make Black Lives  Matter advocates into realizing that a white Confederate general can turn good.

In 2017 the City of New Orleans removed a statue of General Beauregard, which had been put up in 1915. It was one of four statues removed. I would say that it deserved to be removed, because it showed Beauregard as a Confederate army officer. On the other hand, had it shown him as an advocate for civil rights, it would doubtless still be there.

The lesson to be learned from his story in the year 2020 is that racism does nobody any good. A white Confederate general can learn from experience that it does society better to recognize the equality of minority races. Those who advocate violence against blacks are doing no good for the betterment of all. And the same lesson should be learned by black advocates: not all whites are racists. If a white Confederate general can speak in favor of recognizing racial equality, they should learn that bonding with whites is better than fighting with them.

This does not mean that no “enemies of the people” exist.  In my own view, the true enemies of both races are the 1%, who advocate an economic and political system which keeps members of both races low.  We have seen this plainly only in the past day or two, where the Trump administration has gone to the Supreme Court—again—to argue that Obamacare is unconstitutional. It does this in the middle of a horrible pandemic, where 40,000 new cases daily arise, arguing that dealing with the illness striking the people is not a matter for the federal government to deal with. Whites and blacks need to both arise and save our country, cooperating together as they should have for more than 150 years.

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