BAYHAM: The Last Battles For The New Orleans Civil War Monuments
The legal skirmishing over the future of New Orleans’ Confederate monuments is drawing to a close as historic preservationists received an adverse ruling before the federal court of appeal to save from removal three monuments to Confederate figures and a memorial to a Reconstruction-era Liberty Place street battle, which has received quite the alternate “reinterpretation” in the press,
Why the city of New Orleans seems to be in such a rush to knock them off their respective pedestals is curious as 1) two polls conducted in the city showed only tepid support for removing the monuments (34% and 50%) and 2) the city has yet to figure out what to do with the statues.
You would have thought that a declared plan for either re-erecting these historic pieces in a less prominent venue or their transfer to a public museum or another community would have been stated before the city sought vendors to remove the statues.
So while the legal wrangling may be over, they will live on in future news cycles as the debate as to their future begins.
The open-ended nature of this operation has led critics to speculate the worst, that they would be left in a convenient unsecured area where they would be destroyed or that they would be sold off as surplus city property.
The Triumph of the Jacobviks
Regardless of your take of the Confederacy, seeing pieces of history bowdlerized from the city landscape ought to be disheartening.
In addition to being works of art (I invite you to visit them for an up close look and examine the detail and craftsmanship from the statues to the granite supports), they represented a generation of New Orleanians, a link to the past.
These aren’t the massive statues of Lenin that followed the Red Army to Berlin and dotted the plains and the cities of eastern Europe, placed as reminders to the locals who actually ran their country. But were paid for by the citizens who sought to honor the heroes of their time.
That these men no longer enjoy the same esteem of the present community is irrelevant. Changing populations and values should lead to interpretative panels to put the monuments in the context of the day they were erected.
However, within this progressive leftward society is the urge to destroy and expunge. When in the minority they cry their worldview should be tolerated but once in power their inclination is to obliterate the competing worldviews of others.
It is the same mindset of their antecedent political movements in Jacobin France and Bolshevik Russia and their contemporary eastern ideological cousins smashing Buddhas in Afghanistan and bulldozing millennia old pagan art in Syria and Iraq. To destroy is an act of both purification and power.
A Fitting Nonmemorial
So what happens to the bases of this monuments, particularly Lee’ pillar which is likely to remain after the figure is plucked away?
Hopefully deadlock. Nothing would be more appropriate than to see squares of dead earth where beautiful century old public art once stood. As for (fill in the blank) Circle, I hope its top remans vacant, a monument to the demagogues occupying seats of power in Orleans Parish and a reminder to other communities trying to clamber upon the political correct bandwagon.
As for the memorials themselves, they should not remain under the jurisdiction of the city of New Orleans one day longer than necessary nor should they be sold to private collectors as plunder. The monuments should be transferred to other communities and proper history facilities where they will be protected and appreciated.
The city should offer Jefferson Davis’ statue to a Louisiana Civil War site, such as Fort Jackson in Plaquemines Parish, Pleasant Hill or Mansfield (sites of two major battles towards the end of the war), or Port Hudson north of Baton Rouge, where the largest siege in American military history occurred.
St. Bernard Parish should be offered the handsome equestrian statue of G.T. Beauregard. The Mexican-American War hero, ex-West Point commandant, and distinguished Confederate general was a native of New Orleans’ most historic neighbor. Furthermore, St. Bernard does not have a single historical statue in the entire parish.
As for the cross-armed resolute statue of General Robert E. Lee, a great new home would be the Jackson Barracks Military History Museum. It is a secure facility and the statue would be an outstanding addition to a military history museum seeking to gain more visitors
The obelisk nobody wants is the Battle of Liberty Place memorial. I made a point of loitering by its location behind a power plant, parking garage, and railroad track and watched a succession of licensed tour guides butcher the history of the event it commemorates, with my favorite being that the battle marked an attempt by the south to secede again. Talk about #FakeHistory.
The monument should be moved to the grounds of the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, where it would be safe from vandals, both the graffiti artists and the historically challenged.
We know the city wants the monuments gone; the public deserves to know where they will be going long-term.