Scoot: A year after Landrieu removed Confederate monument - what changed in NOLA?

April 24, 2018 - 10:20 am

One year ago tonight - in the cover of darkness - a group of men with covered faces descended upon a longstanding monument and lifted it from its pedestal.  The image of the monument dangling in the air tethered from above was the first of four scenes that would create one of the biggest debates in modern New Orleans history.

In the darkness of April 24, 2017, Mayor Landrieu orchestrated the removal of the Liberty Place monument at Iberville and the river in downtown New Orleans.  Removing the Liberty Monument, which represented opposition to the Reconstruction Era by the Crescent City White League, was much less controversial than the removal of the three statues that would follow: Jefferson Davis, PGT Beauregard and Robert E. Lee.

Through the years I have been on the air as a radio talk show host, the controversy over the removal of the Confederate-related monuments has been the most passionate one I have ever witnessed.  The controversy pierced deeply into the ideals and attitudes of both sides.  One side expressed outright disgust over the idea that “history” was being changed in the name of political correctness.  The other side expressed their outrage that the presence of the Confederate-related monuments held the emotional bond of slavery over their hearts.

Both sides of the intense debate had a point to their arguments for and against, but the majority on each side refused to recognize the legitimate concerns and feelings of the other side.  And that is a common problem with all controversies.

So, here we are one year after the removal of the first of four monuments.  What has changed?  Is New Orleans a better city?  Are citizens less racist?  Are citizens safer?  Answers: nothing, no, no, no. 

So why was removal of the monuments linked to great expectations of a better New Orleans?  Answer: Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s personal desire to attract attention for a possible run for higher office at the national level.  The Mayor scripted the removal of the monuments like a Hollywood drama.  The first three were removed in the shroud of darkness; but removing General Robert E. Lee in darkness would not provide Mitch Landrieu - the politician - with the necessary publicity he sought from their removal. 


A Friday afternoon was the perfect time for the dramatic removal of Robert E. Lee from its tall pedestal at historic Lee Circle.  With crowds representing both sides of the debate and droves of media documenting the moment, Robert E. Lee was lifted off a secure foundation; and the imagery of the Civil War general dangling from ropes was unmistakably a metaphor for a southern mentality that included hangings.

Contrary to the eminent need to remove the monuments for the sake of New Orleans, which was promoted by the Mayor, one year later, nothing has changed.  People are not less racist.  Citizens are not safer.  The lack of change in the city and the citizens supports the notion that Mayor Landrieu was motivated more by selfishness than the reality of change.

What can we learn one year after the removal of the monuments began?  The challenge is for both sides to look back and think about the arguments supporting and opposing the monuments’ removal.  Those who followed the Mayor’s logic should admit the city has not changed and citizens, especially those who were to most benefit from the removal of the monuments, are not safer.  Another important point is where do we draw the line?  Since many African-Americans are also linked directly to the slave trade in America, what names are beyond the sin of slavery?

The side that strongly opposed the removal of the monuments has some admissions to recognize as well.  Those Confederate-related monuments were offensive to many of our neighbors; and there should have been more compassion about the impact their presence had on many citizens, whether conscious or subconscious. It is impossible to intelligently argue that the presence of the monuments should not be offensive to anyone while arguing that the removal of the monuments is offensive to you.  Neither their presence nor absence is changing what lives in the hearts and minds of all citizens.

The current environment of political warfare in America does not encourage recognition of the legitimacy of the arguments of the other side - whichever side that may be. 

Recognizing that the removal of the monuments has not changed New Orleans should make both sides aware of the fact that the act of removing a symbol does not change who we are, but symbols can be offensive. 

How much simpler life would be if only the hearts and minds of people could be changed by the physical remove of a symbol!

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