Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Heartbreaking Removal of the New Orleans Confederate Monuments

General Beauregard Monument
I have a "Facebook friend," Roy Guste, whom I have never met in person but who takes stunning photos of New Orleans and the people there. Roy has a true love for the city and the people and it comes through in his work.

With all of the controversy surrounding the Confederate monuments and their impending removal at the hands of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Roy has been photographing the monuments because that's the only way he can preserve them in their current, and rightful, settings.  This one is one of my favorites.  (I'm not posting it -- it's his artwork and sale of his photos provides income for him. But visit his page - his work is stunning.)

What in the world is Mitch Landrieu thinking?

There is a federal lawsuit pending to halt the removal:
Opponents of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's plan to remove Confederate monuments at Lee Circle and three other locations filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday (Dec. 17), just hours after the City Council approved the mayor's proposal. The suit, allotted to U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier, asked for an injunction to stop the city from removing the monuments. It argued removing the historic markers would violate a number of federal and state laws, including the Louisiana Constitution. 
Meanwhile, the city is moving ahead with plans to remove the monuments as can be seen in this photo by James Karst of the Times-Picayune.

Photo via James Karst: The Times-Picayune.


The removal of the monuments is not something the majority of NOLA citizens want; they are, in fact, out protesting this morning. There is a group marching around Beauregard Circle as I write this.
As a student of history, this whole brouhaha confounds me. I've tried to see both sides of the issue. I read the position, for example, of the Southern Poverty Law Center who filed an amicus brief in this case which basically comes down to the fact that the statues must go because they glorify white supremacy and slavery. I find that position short sighted and uninformed.  You can't erase or rewrite history just because it is unpleasant and that perception of the monuments is only your opinion and discounts the opinions of others who see the issue differently.

Perhaps we need these statues to remember what happens to a country when differing opinions and perceptions tear us apart.

Perhaps the SPLC, who advocates tolerance, should practice what they preach.

The plan, as I understand it, is to put these monuments in a museum someplace where they can be "seen only by those who choose to do so."

Who is personally offended by these monuments?  Did anyone ever really walk by Lee Circle and say, "Damn, that statue surely offends me"?  Because if that's the litmus test, I've got a few monuments that I'd like to put up for removal, too. The ball goes both ways.  Where do we stop this ridiculous "offended culture" where we now find ourselves? Must politics rule everything we do and feel?

In my research and work on my book about Cammie Henry, I can't help but wonder what she and Lyle Saxon would have to say about this.  Cammie worked to preserve history all of her life in whatever way she could, through preservation of buildings or record keeping in her scrapbooks.  Lyle Saxon was known as Mr. New Orleans and loved the city deeply. I would love to hear their thoughts on this issue.  I can almost hear Cammie's anger and frustration that these monuments are being so disrespected and maligned.

Mitch Landrieu, it seems, has plenty of other more important issues on his plate as mayor. Crime in New Orleans is at a staggering rate right now; that seems like a much more important problem.

I hope I can get to New Orleans in time to see these monuments and appreciate their setting one more time before they are gone. Soon we will only have photos, such as those of Mr. Guste, to document our history.

1 comment:

Robert Hyde said...

I write as an ex-resident of New Orleans in the 1980's and a lifelong fan and supporter of The Crescent City. Now back living in the UK I am concerned with this worldwide phenomenon of attempting to rewrite or airbrush out of history those events or people who are no longer convenient or no longer aligned with currently popular thinking. Here in the UK there are students at Oriel College Oxford who are petitioning for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes the founder of Rhodesia and of course, the DeBeers Diamonds Company. Ironically, this movement is led by a current overseas recipient of the coveted 'Rhodes Scholarship' whose previous recipients include Bill Clinton.
Pulling down statues will not make the past go away and those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to make the same mistakes again in the future.