In their praise of Mayor Mitch Landrieu for removing the confederate monuments we learned this about the national media—they saw the issue as black and white—a throwback civil rights issue. From their perspective, determining right from wrong was not difficult. The monuments had to go.
For many locals though, it was an entirely different issue. It had nothing to do with race, the Civil War, states rights, certainly not black versus white. To many locals, especially those who grew up here, it was about the backdrop of their lives—the streetscape that was part of their experience. Preservation is not nearly as titillating of a topic to The New York Times as is race. Given the national media’s passion for seeking long-range presidential contenders this played into their hands.
Away from the spotlight, there could have been a compromise that would have made a statement but still left some historic dignity. The Beauregard statue should have been kept in place. With Lee, Davis and Liberty Place gone there could be be no doubt of the city’s attitude, but even The New York Times, NBC and Rachel Maddow might have understood that Beauregard was different in that he was local, a post-war advocate of integration and his statue was a fine piece of art. Places do not often have monuments to individuals on the losing side, but New Orleans was part of the war. We are a crossroads to history. Beauregard was part of the story.
In the mayor’s speech, made on the day that the Lee monument was removed, he declared that “The Civil War is over.” Both the national and local media gave prominence to that statement despite it having already been declared many times through the decades beginning at Appomattox. What it really refers to is important moments in racial interaction. Orators could have proclaimed the Civil War’s end on many occasions over the decades including the following:
• In 1964 when the federal Civil Rights bill was passed.
• In 1967, when the federal voting rights bills were passed.
•Throughout the 1960s when New Orleans became a black majority city.
• From 1970 to ’78, when Mayor Moon Landrieu, the current mayor’s father, integrated city government.
• In 1979 when Dutch Morial became the city’s first black mayor beginning a succession of four black mayors.
• During that same time period when the council had a black majority, except for a brief time after Hurricane Katrina.
• In everyday life as blacks and whites increasingly interact.
Truth is, when racial tension is at its worst it is frequently because it is stirred up by City Hall.
All sides in this issue have been hindered by extremists such as self-proclaimed anarchists warring for the statues removal or Confederate soldier holdovers making their case for keeping the statues. Neither extreme represents the ideals of the people in the middle who truly care about the city.
Before all this started there was no cry for removing the monuments. Now the issue has become a source of tension. From the beginning this issue was based on what the mayor wanted. There was never a legitimate debate. Finding common ground might not excite the national media, but it would be good for the city.