What is most maddening about the monument removal situation is that it didn’t need to happen. There was no outcry; no outrage. Prior to the election of the current mayor, New Orleans had four black mayors in a row spanning a period of 32 years, and not once had the statues been an issue. People saw the statues not as a symbol of slavery but as icons from the city’s history, much as there are statues of kings and princes in European cities that long ago shunned monarchies. But the Confederate soldiers were not alone. On other pedestals stand saints and various liberators, including Joan of Arc, Bernardo de Galvez, Simon Bolivar and Andrew Jackson. There is Margaret Haughery, who baked bread and provided care for orphaned kids, and Enrique Alferez’s classic statue of Molly Marine. Louis Armstrong stands proudly in a park named after him. Near where he’s supposed to have landed stands Bienville. Not all of these figures represented perfect people (not even the saints), but all were part of the pageantry of the city’s culture.
Removing the monuments was part of a regional ripple set off by the tragic murder of members from a black church congregation in South Carolina. The gunman was white. That began a yelling match about the Confederate flag as a symbol of the Old South. Some states had even included the stars and bars in their flag, but not Louisiana. Truth is this state wasn’t as committed to the Confederacy as were its regional colleagues. As home of a global port, it saw the world differently. President Lincoln knew that, and in his speeches mentioned Louisiana as possibly the first state that would reconstruct itself. Rather than the Confederate symbols in its flag, Louisiana chose motherhood, showing a gracious pelican with chicks at its breast.
“Racist” has become a word that’s frequently used as a weapon, most often by those with little training on how to handle it. There are many situations in life where race may be a factor but not the explanation. It is, for example, not at all racist to appreciate the statue of General Beauregard as a beautiful example of equestrian art, created by then-renowned artist Alexander Doyle, who also designed the Lee image. For those who have lived in the city for a while, the statues were part of the landscape.
On this topic, we draw from a font of wisdom – our readers. Responding to a blog on our website, MyNew Orleans.com, a commenter, Michael Rouchell, made these points:
“The political leaders of the past were so much smarter than those of today. For one thing they knew that the only way the country could be re-unified was that there could be no prosecution of the South and its soldiers. … The South was allowed to construct monuments to honor their soldiers just as the North did. This was the only way that the country could re-unite. … Removal of the monuments is a step backwards; it isn’t a step forward. It will not unify us; it will divide us.”
Worst among all wars are those that never had to be fought.