Sometimes during contentious civic moments you have to just hope for a miracle—even when the sources of power are aligned against you. So here goes: Couldn’t we at least save the Beauregard monument?
Here are some reasons:
•Beauregard was from New Orleans; the only one of the maligned figures to be a native.
•He was an early supporter of integration. After the war he headed an effort known as the “unification movement” in which a coalition of black and white business leaders pushed for integrated schools, transportation and public places.
•He was chosen to head the state’s new lottery because of his trustworthiness.
•He also helped establish a railroad, thereby investing in the future as the age of the steamboat faded.
•He was so respected that his handsome statue at City Park was funded by a community drive and created by nationally respected sculptor Alexander Doyle, who admired the general.
• And, for the diversity advocates, Beauregard was of French ancestry. In a town founded by Canadian French there is no monument to a native French person.
•Finally, and this should be worth some points to the demolition crowd, he hated Jefferson Davis and the Confederate president hated him. Davis happened to die in New Orleans. Beauregard, as senior military person in the city, had the right to lead the funeral profession, but he refused saying that because of his dislike for Davis to do so would be hypocritical.
All my life I have marveled at the Beauregard statue standing firm at the entrance to City Park. As seen from Esplanade Avenue, he is an impressive sentinel. Never once had I thought about the statue in terms of racism or slavery, but more as monument to a local general who, being from the South, the Confederacy would have been the home team. The more I have found out about him since this whole controversy began the more impressed I have been.
Finally, I digress. Those who support the monument have gotten mileage out of alleged threats and reports of violence. To the extent that those claims are accurate, they are shameful and must not be condoned. We note though that political movements, especially when people feel threatened by a loss of power or self-respect in their daily life, often generate fringe movements. We saw the same during the weekend after Donald Trump was inaugurated and people critical of his presidency vandalized public spaces including a police car. One group even referred to itself as anarchists. Emotionally, the demonstrations, on both sides, hurt the larger cause. In the case of the monuments, there are many good solid citizens who care very much for the city and its heritage. Theirs is the true voice.
City Hall Is hoping that the shock value will lessen as each monument disappears. That may be clever strategic thinking, but there will still be plenty of folks who will think that City Hall never really gave a damn about their opinions.
I dread the next few weeks in New Orleans, but as always hope for the best. Please, Mr. Mayor, keep the Beauregard statue.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
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