My brother was working on a family tree for a school project and asked if we had any interesting family stories he could write about.

Before Katrina, I could tell him of none. We were not a very close knit family until necessity forced us all to share one house together.

Months after the hurricane, we visited New Orleans, our home town, and my Aunt Diane, who had done extensive research on Swindler family genealogy, told us about a great great great grandfather Adrian Fuqua (we aren’t exactly sure of the spelling).

In the years of Reconstruction after the Civil War, Yankees ruled the South like an occupied land. They were placed in political offices and pillaged at will from local business owners. One such business owner was Adrian Fuqua, who ran an antique store in the French Quarter. One evening, a group of carpetbaggers broke into his store, drugged him and his wife, and made off with his wares. They had, apparently, done this to other business owners in the area, and the people were sick of it. On Sept. 14, 1874, the business owners marched to city hall and started shooting the crooked Yanks, attempting to take down the Reconstructionist government. In the fray, Adrian Fuqua and his two sons were three of the 16 Democratic militia men killed. In 1891, a monument was placed near the battle site to honor their valor against an oppressive and unjust government.

Or, at least, that’s the story she told.

When my brother and I searched the Internet for his family tree project, the first references we found to the Liberty Place Battle were about a fight for white supremacy.

Google “Liberty Place, New Orleans,” and a slew of civil rights commentaries come up. None of the sites I searched (although granted there are thousands) said anything about business owners being robbed by Yankees. The battle, it seems, was against the predominately black metropolitan police, and was an attempt to over throw the new government. It took federal troops to end the matter.

According to the articles we found, the business owners weren’t just a band of heroes who came together at the spur of the moment to stand up for themselves. They were organized as the Crescent City White League.

And I felt a little sick.

I have a very vague memory of being shown this monument when I was young. It’s a simple obelisk that was then located on Canal Street. I had no idea this thing caused so many people grief. During our online search, we saw newspaper pictures of the monument covered in anti-Nazi graffiti, and learned that several years ago, the controversial monument was moved about a block away from its original location. One former mayor wanted to remove it altogether. In several online articles, I read that the inscription on the Liberty Place Monument was changed, and now reads, “In honor of those Americans on both sides of the conflict who died in the Battle of Liberty Place... A conflict of the past that should teach us lessons for the future.”

The monument is still there. It survived Katrina.

It was a little bit embarrassing to realize Adrian Fuqua was in a White League, even though I obviously never met the man. But I’ve always believed that one’s ancestry, background, or “who your daddy is” doesn’t necessarily determine your character. If you are relying on the glories or the oppression of your ancestors or family to define you — you sadly aren’t your own person.

I would like to believe that the unjust Reconstruction government had more to do with my great great great grandfather’s involvement in this battle than simple racism, but I’ll never know for sure. The important thing is it doesn’t make me a good or bad person either way.

I do hate that what really happened at Liberty Place has been dumbed down through the ages to be simply about white supremacy. I think dirty carpetbaggers really did rob Adrian’s store, and although race was obviously a factor, the battle was a complex event about many issues that arise when a foreign group occupies another land. I’m not condoning racism, but surely there’s a problem with tyranny.

There are few pure heroes and villains in history, but it is much easier to create them after the fact. Stories are just better that way.

History should not incite anger or egotism or shame. But monuments, since they do “honor” things, aren’t neutral, and I can see why some people in New Orleans want the monument removed, or at least placed in a museum. Regardless of how it came to be interpreted, the monument’s meaning has changed, and it does offend people. As a decedent of one of the men on the monument, I’m OK with moving it, as long as the monument is kept in a museum — you can’t just forget history that makes you uncomfortable, but you can always relocate it.

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