Where the statue of Jefferson Davis once stood now symbolizes what there is of public policy regarding monuments and place names: there is nothing—just a void—a place for leaves to blow in the wind with no destination.
Part of New Orleans’ greatness is that it has done a good job at preservation. We saved our old town and made the French Quarter a global attraction. We rejected a riverfront expressway. We saved the St. Charles streetcar line. We cared for our ancient cemeteries. We preserved much of our architecture. Now, however, as the city reaches its tricentennial we have surrendered some of our most significant public monuments. We do not intend to resurrect the arguments from both sides. We do hope that all involved would agree that there has to be a better system than mayoral mandate for making these determinations.
This election year, when a new mayor and council will be selected, is a good time to bring up a discussion about monuments and street names We need to understand that New Orleans is different from most cities in that it is, by its nature, a historic depository. As a port city, New Orleans became a funnel for the cultures, races, languages and hopes of many people. The city’s role is to reflect history and not to desecrate it.
We recommend that a permanent commission be established and that its members should include historians and scholars; and that there should also be a public review process. The commission could develop guidelines, which at least could provide some thought and analysis for the future. It could also recommend new monuments and suggest funding plans.
We hope that never again will there be masked forces, working for the city, having to sneak late at night to move a monument. We hope that never again will well-meaning people who have generously supported civic projects face angry words from city hall. We hope that the public debate on monuments is spoken among the area’s citizens and is not represented by fringe elements from out of town.
Lincoln had great hope that the aftermath of the war would be peaceful and that citizens split by the controversy could reunite peacefully. We hope for that too.