Our rap gospel memorializes black lives lost to racist institutionalism and individual acts of violence while voicing reactions among the living.
Soundtrack | The beat and chorus sample the White House archives of President Obama singing Amazing Grace in his eulogy of Pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of nine black lives murdered in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Rap lyrics written and performed by New Orleans musician K.G. reflect on Charleston and draw connections to police shootings and witness videos that have spread public knowledge of brutality against black men through social media, news and Black Lives Matter activism. K.G.’s mom is the female vocalist.
Visuals | A performer costumed as the Statue of Liberty, resembling a marketing icon of Liberty Tax and predatory financial services, walks New Orleans’ streets passing Confederate monuments the deemed a “public nuisance” after the Charleston Church shooting. Witness and memorial images sourced from news and social media recall the lives and deaths of Tamir Rice, Walter Scott and Alton Sterling who were shot and killed by police, as well as fragments from photos by friends and family of the nine churchgoers murdered in Charleston: Pastor Clementa Pickney, Reverend Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders and Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr.
Monuments | After the Charleston church massacre, the killer's website manifesto surfaced that celebrated white supremacy and historical sites associated with racial violence. Shortly thereafter, the city of New Orleans aligned with a national movement to remove monuments to Confederates in the U.S. Civil War of 1861-1865. The city selected four prominent artifacts to relocate from public space to a museum: statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.T. Beauregard; and Liberty Monument.
Removal of the monuments was delayed amidst legal challenges and intimidation by pro-monument harassers, including financial and death threats to businesses, family and employees of contractors who bid on removal jobs. One contractor returned home to Baton Rouge to find his car burned after he was seen doing prep work at a monument. Nearly two years later, in late Spring 2017, the city used overnight crews to remove the four monuments.
Activists in New Orleans, such as the group organized as Take 'Em Down, advocate that removing only four monuments is not enough. Take 'Em Down NOLA has researched a long list of symbols of white supremacy they want removed from city and private spaces that interface with public, educational and civic life. takeemdownnola.org
New Orleans, the Civil War & the Lost Confederate Cause |
New Orleans is currently over 50% black, Creole or mixed heritage. More people identify most intimately as black than not.
Across races, many believe Confederate monuments glorify 19th century leaders willing to kill and die to preserve legalized slavery and brutality against blacks. Southern states also felt disenfranchised and resentful of political seats in the North. Seceding and forming a new nation where it was acceptable to divide, sell and own people was a way for those in power, predominately men of Western European heritage, to maintain financial and social privilege at the cost of enslaved or indentured blacks, Native Americans and other servants.
The Confederacy surrendered to the Union in 1865 though racial divisions and opportunities for civil and economic participation still feel like day-to-day matters of life, death or liberty. Segregation in employment, education, health services, housing, respect and access to basic human needs are plainly visible, especially in Louisiana.
Those who trace lineages to enslavement can imagine stories of ancestors’ horrors of forced labor, murder, rape, beatings, separation from family, poor conditions and fear due to immoral causes. Descendants of slave owners can imagine ancestors participating in immoral acts. Descendants of Confederate fighters can imagine ancestors’ willful or coerced wartime sacrifices. Some believe that symbols of those who died, fought or sacrificed comforts under Confederate leadership should remain in public view. Others are ambivalent or disinterested.
For too many, however, public display of Confederate monuments legitimize unfair legacies born from laws and practices of slavery and war. They are demoralizing reminders of painful times and feel like official validation of militarized rebellion and war based on exploiting racial cruelty and human rights.
Many Louisiana stories diverge from common narratives in U.S. history. New Orleans was named by French colonists in 1718. It was established and still operates as a port important to international commerce. We like this site to learn more: knowla.org/entry/776/