Scoot: Renaming Lee Circle - “Leah Circle?”

Scoot
June 10, 2019 - 11:32 am

The passing of iconic New Orleans chef Leah Chase left many with an emptiness - an emptiness that might be filled by supporting a way to honor Miss Leah. One of the things that helps us deal with the loss of a famous person is thinking of ways to forever pay homage to that person.

Leah Chase’s recipes and her style of cooking were legendary, and she was given the appropriate title of the “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” But Leah Chase was much more than a great chef who prided herself on authenticity - she was an everyday force in the lives of those who encountered her at her famous restaurant Dooky Chase in New Orleans or any time she graced your presence. But Leah Chase played a role in history, too.

During the heat of the civil rights battle, Leah Chase had the courage to open her restaurant to black and white civil rights activists as a place to eat together in the same restaurant and as a place to meet and talk about the daily strategies of their battle for equal rights.

Over the years, her restaurant hosted prominent civil rights leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and two presidents - George W. Bush and Barak Obama - and the gracious service and welcoming both received was not affected by their party affiliation. Leah Chase also hosted countless A-list celebrities.

There is no doubt that Leah Chase, the Queen of New Orleans Cuisine, was an extraordinary person. It is fitting that Brent Rosen, President and CEO of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans would launch a petition in support of renaming Lee Circle - Leah Circle.

Lee Circle has been naked without a statute atop the towering base since the Confederate-era statues were removed amid great controversy in 2017. Speculation as to whom deserves to replace General Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle has been filled with passion and conflict.

The parent company of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, the National Food and Beverage Foundation, announced it would be “proud to cover the cost of the creation and installation of a statue to Chef Leah Chase.”

Leah Chase would be an excellent person to be honored at Lee Circle and the similar sounding name makes the transition easy to accept, but the question rages on as to whether Leah Chase is the most deserving person to be honored at Lee Circle.

The list of people worthy of the honor of replacing General Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle is a long list, and everyone seems to have an opinion about the best choice. It is unrealistic to think that there will be a general consensus for the person whose character and accomplishments reach the level of the honor.  Rather than allow the debate to divide us - can we come together and support whomever is selected?

On my radio show, I have heard a broad range of suggestions for renaming Lee Circle including, Saints QB Drew Brees, the late owner of the Saints Tom Benson, Andrew Higgins - who owned the company that hired and paid equally whites, blacks, men, women, etc. to build vessels that played a key role in the Normandy invasion on D-Day. All of those suggestions are good suggestions, and a case can be made for any one of them.  However, there would not be agreement on the selection of any of the aforementioned.

Another suggestion that inspired the creation of a petition is the New Orleans Victory Circle - dedicated to veterans and to the men and women who died in the fight to protect our freedoms. The fact that the National WWII Museum in New Orleans is about 500 feet from the circle lends credibility to that suggestion.

However, there is another one that was talked about on my show that could satisfy many people. What if the circle were renamed Legends’ Circle, and decorative tiles or plaques dedicated to various New Orleans legends surrounded the circle?

If the circle were renamed Legends’ Circle there could be a tile or plaque for Leah Chase, Drew Brees, Tom Benson, Andrew Higgins, Dr. John and any other legend from our city or area deserving of such an honor. If Legends’ Circle were established and Leah Chase and Dr. John passed away, there could be an unveiling ceremony for the newest tiles/plaques honoring the passing of a true legend.

Confederate-era monuments were removed from four different locations around the New Orleans area, but Lee Circle is geographically the most prominent of the four locations.  For that reason will always attract the most attention in any debate about replacing the monuments.

Regardless of who or what is selected to replace General Robert E. Lee, my hope is that we can unite as a city and a region and support the selection; so it is imperative that the process yields a selection worthy of widespread support.  If Leah Circle, Legends’ Circle or any other name is selected, rather than continue the bitter fight over why it should have been someone else, why can’t we come together with the attitude that there is good about the person selected?

I don’t expect that to happen because debate and controversy are more compelling than agreement on the ultimate selection for replacing the general at Lee Circle. Controversy surrounded the removal of General Robert E. Lee, and I have no doubt controversy will follow the selection of a replacement.

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