Former President Donald Trump took the United States close to a coup d’’état amidst a background of smouldering race relations. For him monuments were just historical references. Pull down the Confederate ones and then George Washington would be the next. However it is not as simple as that. For Black Americans in the Southern United States they are a symbol of racism and white supremacy as indeed director C.J. Hunt discovers in his documentary “The Neutral Ground”. Not only are Confederate monuments an affront to black Americans but they are equally offensive to many white Americans, particularly if they are not Southern.
The documentary starts in 2015 as the New Orleans city council votes to “relocate” 4 Confederate monuments including monuments dedicated to General Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and The White League movement. You might want to equate the White League as a predecessor to the Ku Klux Clan. Robert E. Lee as a Confederate general and Jefferson Davis as the first president of the Confederacy. Historical research clearly indicates these men and the White League were beacons of white supremacy. The mayor of New Orleans said it was time to move these monuments from a place of reverence to remembrance. Heated public debate ensued with threats of violence. Despite an attempt at obtaining a federal injunction to block the removal almost two years later they are removed.
But the New Orleans heat spreads throughout the South and monuments come down with armed militia, like those in the Capitol Building insurrection, milling about threatening bloodshed. As one commentator states this is the beginning as streets, buildings and parks are littered with names of white supremacists. There is much more junk to clear.
Why so many trying to preserve the Lost Cause? Could it be the result of a post Reconstruction attempt to sanitize and gentrify the South from a squalid and miserable reality?
I have visited plantations and slave markets in Louisiana and Georgia and that was an eye-opening experience but I was somewhat blind to the monuments perhaps as a Canadian I did not feel the pain and shame of the South. This documentary is a searing expose of the lies of the myth of the Confederacy and what it is like to have been and be black in America told in a beautiful sarcastic fashion. C.J. Hunt weaves a fascinating story and he discovers as a Filipino and a black what it means to be black.
By the way to Canadians reading this it is no time to be superior given the discoveries of mass unmarked graves of aboriginal children at residential boarding schools. It’s beginning to look like aboriginal genocide and the monuments are beginning to be toppled.
“The Neutral Ground” won the Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. It will have its television broadcast as the Opening Film for PBS POV 34th season on July 5th.. It will stream free on pov.org until August 4th.
You can watch the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxmkfIxdJz4