Leopold Caspari was a French emigrant who later became a captain of the Confederacy, a democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives (the old democrat, not the current, for those of you thinking a point has been made), a member of the Natchitoches Parish School Board and a member of the Louisiana Senate.
A quote by Dr. Chris Maggio, president of Northwestern State University, stands out in my mind: “NSU can be a shining example for other universities.”
We should want our university to be an example for others in a positive way. By keeping a street and a building named after a captain of the Confederacy, we promote a negative example to others who might be considering making a change at their university as well.
By keeping the columns representative of the former Bullard mansion on campus as a symbol of our university, we are not preserving history; we are promoting an unequal existence at this school that should have died with the Civil War.
While Caspari was an integral part of NSU’s founding, the original intent of the school was “for the benefit of white persons of either sex,” which is not the ideal our school believes now. In fact, the African-American population makes up more than a quarter of our campus today.
Historically, the Civil War was fought between the Union army and the Confederate army over, yes, slavery. Those who sympathize with the Confederacy during this time usually come back with the notion that it was about states’ rights; this is half-way true, if you feel a need to look at it this way. The war was fought for states’ rights, but it was for states’ rights to own slaves. In fact, multiple states in their secession declarations mention slavery as one of the major reason for leaving the U.S., thus beginning the Civil War.
Mississippi’s first sentence in the declaration was the following: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.”
Georgia mentioned slavery in the second sentence of its declaration, and South Carolina wrote that there had been “…an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations…”
So, as we can see, according to states that seceded, the war was absolutely about slavery.
While I see great value in history, keeping statues, building names or street names that promote the life and doings of Confederate soldiers is not needed, especially during a time that diversity is so coveted. By removing these relics, we are not slandering history, but promoting a future that will be inclusive of everyone.
The renaming of a building or street does not erase the ability to learn about the Civil War and those involved, if it is necessary or desirable to do so. The advantage of record-keeping is that we have books, documentaries and more that cover this specific topic without needing to glorify those who used other human beings for their own benefit.
Understanding the history behind your university and promoting a belief in unequal existence are two different ideas. A conversation should be had about whether we value diversity as a campus or if we value a past drenched in the blood of black brothers and sisters who were never given the opportunity to attend school, or live the life they wanted for themselves.
History can be preserved in a museum; diversity cannot be preserved without the opportunity for it to thrive.