I have just read that the city council of New Orleans has finally begun the removal of a memorial and three statues that they deem offensive. The memorial is to the Battle of Liberty Place (a bloody riot between the “Crescent City White League” and New Orleans’ integrated police force in the latter part of the 20th century). The three statues are of General Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), and General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.
So they are all removed (or soon will be). No one will be offended anymore, I suppose. I wonder, however, how will the lives of the citizens of New Orleans improve now that vestiges of the ante-bellum and post-bellum South are removed?
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office issued a statement that this was not about politics, but rather about how the monuments “fail to reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today.” Inclusion, it seems, of everyone who agreed with the city council. But no inclusion for those who see Lee as a great American.
I just wonder, who in New Orleans really knows who Lee, Davis, or Beauregard were, besides the fact that they were leaders of the Confederacy? Does anyone on the city council know (or care) that Lee legally freed ALL of his slaves before Abraham Lincoln freed even one slave? Or that because of Lee’s orders and example, the country did not go through years of guerrilla warfare after the surrender on April 9, 1865? Do they know that Davis and his wife adopted a black child named Joe into their family during the Civil War (there is one photo of “little Joe” still extant), and this war orphan went with Mrs. Davis while they were fleeing Richmond? The child was cruelly snatched from her by Union cavalry once Davis was captured at Irwinville Georgia. What happened to Joe after that is a mystery.
Does anyone know that after the war Beauregard worked for the railroad, and helped found a political party called the Reform Party? He worked hard to make sure that blacks were registered to vote…in an age and day when other groups worked overtime (violently) to make sure blacks could not vote.
Does any of that matter? Apparently not. We must rid ourselves of any memory of anyone who ever owned slaves. So, when are we going to get rid of the Washington Monument? Rename Washington DC? Let’s get rid of the pyramids of Egypt, the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome too since slaves built those structures. Should we re-write Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer since those novels contain racial epithets? Should we bulldoze the Alamo because some may be offended at that? Where does this end?
For the record, I detest our past association with slavery, Jim Crow, the Kids Klux Klan, and the whole sordid history of one race claiming superiority over another. But how are we going to teach our kids what happened and why it was wrong if we ERASE it? Here’s how I would handle the monument dedicated to the Battle of Liberty Place: leave it up and when your guides talk about it, tell the truth about what happened and how awful it was. Put up another monument next door to the victims of the racism of that day. Put up yet another monument…a really big one in a prominent place dedicated the the victims of the slave trade. And leave the other statues alone, let people read history, and make up their own minds.
Removing these memorials is a tragic mistake. Other groups around the world have done the same thing. From March 2-18,2001 ancient statues of Buddha in Afghanistan were obliterated by rockets and dynamite. Why? They were offensive…to the Taliban. In the last two years priceless Roman ruins in Syria (primarily the city of Palmyra) were blown up. Why? Because the Romans were pagans and the people who were offended…the history erasers…were ISIS. They were giving off a strong message: There is no one here but us. We must never be offended.
Don’t be afraid to preserve history…out in the open….warts and all….so that all of us can learn and make up our own minds.