(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) As the national networks take brief note of the climactic days of the long running dispute in New Orleans about the city removing four “Confederate monuments” from public streets, the Louisiana media is running frequent updates, with banner coverage, of every development.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Web site at times has literally featured a red banner about the latest monument news, and at this writing was running this headline at this size:
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the driving force behind the statues’ removal, is aggressively seeking national media attention to explain the removal, doing nothing to dissuade people from the idea that he actually may run for President in 2020.
Landrieu talks a game of reconciliation – writing in the Washington Post that “after” the removal of the statues, then he would advocate “coming together to decide who we are as a city – and as a nation.” But Landrieu has come under fire for not fomenting a constructive conversation about the monuments, before their removal, but instead twisting arms to force the matter to a City Council vote guaranteed to produce Landrieu’s desired outcome.
Vaguely centrist T-P columnist Tim Morris wrote that the only “mission accomplished” for Landrieu was to “raise his national profile” for a possible presidential run, but that “if the goal was to exorcise some of the city’s racist demons and set us on the road to healing … well, there is a lot still to be done there…. we are halfway through the process and we remain as polarized as ever. Armed camps. Public sniping between the mayor and a prominent businessman. Police barricades and arrests.”
This is what we have been reduced to. You either support removing the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis or you are a white supremacist. That is a mistake and a long-term detriment to the reconciliation and healing we need to go forward as a community.
I know many people of goodwill who have opposed the removal of the monuments, who have felt left out by the political process and are irked by the way they are being portrayed. They are neither extreme nor violent. They respect the rule of law.
Lost in the shuffle, or at least in the mayor’s statements condemning the monuments and the national media coverage of them, are almost all attempts to consider each monument on its own merits rather than as a group. Landrieu literally said that all four statues had originally been erected “in celebration” of “slavery and segregation.”
But others note that the monuments are very different, the last one (of Gen. Beauregard) having been publicly presented as late as 1915 – more than 30 years after the one honoring Robert E. Lee. At the dedication of the Lee memorial, not just Confederate veterans but also a host of members of the “Grand Army of the Republic” (union veterans) cheered in unison in honor of Lee.
The first vice president of the committee that commissioned Lee’s statue was Beauregard himself. But Beauregard was hardly a celebrant of “slavery and segregation.” Instead, he openly campaigned after the war for civil rights for blacks, including integration of schools and transportation, and argued that “the natural relation between the white and colored people is that of friendship” while supporting “equal rights” for all.
Defenders of the statues have noted that a monument honoring Beauregard surely wasn’t honoring segregation, nor would the integrationist Beauregard have led the way to honor Lee as a way to advocate for “slavery and segregation.”
Instead, both Lee and Beauregard were seen post-war as leading figures of reconciliation among regions and races, as almost any standard encyclopedia – as neutral a record as possible – is sure to note.
On the other hand, Confederate Gen. Jefferson Davis had little to do with New Orleans (unlike Beauregard, who grew up there and was a civic leader in multiple ways there both before and after the Civil War), and he never renounced slavery. His monument, now removed, and the monument commemorating a local conflict called the “battle of Liberty Place,” have no longstanding connotations of reconciliation.
Indeed, the Liberty Place monument – the first one removed – bears an inscription openly dedicating it to the cause of “white supremacy.”
Landrieu’s statements consistently have conflated all four monuments under that cause – but Errol Laborde, a centrist (or even slightly center-left), decades-long veteran columnist in New Orleans, has written that Lee and Beauregard should be distinguished from the Davis and Liberty Place ones.
Nonsense, argued liberal columnist Jarvis DeBerry.
“The most intellectually bankrupt argument in support of the white supremacist monuments the New Orleans City Council slated to remove declares that to remove them from the city landscape would make us guilty of rewriting history,” he wrote. “Apparently, the crime of rewriting history is far worse than the crime of being a warmongering, secessionist white supremacist.”
That idea, he wrote, is absurd.
“Were Lee and Davis and Beauregard and the White League on the right side of the major issues of their day?” DeBerry asked. “No.”
So the debate continues – but so too do the mayor’s efforts to end it by removing the statues. With Liberty Place and Davis gone, Lee and Beauregard could follow in short order.