So here’s the thing, y’all: I’m OK with taking down monuments to Confederate figures. I really am. I just don’t care – any more than Mitch Landrieu cares about the city he was elected to serve.
The things I do care about are misplaced priorities, badly spent public funds, and the slippery slope of removing monuments to people who did bad things (along with good things).
Mayor Landrieu has said he doesn’t want to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson – a slave-owner who attempted genocide against my Cherokee ancestors – because the general-cum-president saved New Orleans. Fair enough. That’s solid reasoning. Sort of. But, now, the anti-monument folks have a new list: Remove monuments to and rename streets and parks named in honor of Confederate soldiers and slave-owners.
Well. That’s quite a long list, isn’t it? Washington and Jefferson top it on the national level. Paul Tulane, if I’m not mistaken is on the local list. So is John McDonough, who endowed the public school system with a truck-load of money in a bequest that required public education be available to children of all races.
I’m not a product of New Orleans public schools. I lived until age 15 in suburban Washington, D.C., where there was no racial majority, and I went to public schools. My parents and grandparents took me to Mt. Vernon, President Washington’s home, and to Monticello, President Jefferson’s (incredible) estate. We traveled to Tennessee and visited President Jackson’s Hermitage. On school trips (and family trips), we went to Williamsburg, VA, and Gettysburg, PA, and learned. We learned a lot.
I went to a public high school in South Carolina, where the town and the school were named for the railroad tycoons who founded it. (It’s Irmo, SC, named for Irmill and Mosely, if you care to Google it.) Back then, in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Confederate flag still flew over the State House. I didn’t like it. I didn’t approve. Life went on. I stood on the steps of the State House, feet from then-Gov. Carroll Campbell, singing with the All-State Choir. We weren’t paying attention to the flag – none of us, black and white.
I graduated from Tulane University, having received not only its fine academics but a tad bit of Mr. Tulane’s personal history – albeit only a tad. I think he owned slaves. I also know he founded the medical college and, perhaps inadvertently, the university itself. He sought to bring healthcare and medical education to the region.
Again, if folks were and are offended by monuments to Robert E. Lee, et al, I’m sensitive to that. But I honestly don’t know anyone who was or is. I had lunch with friends from my church last weekend – a congregation that is as diverse as they come. When the subject arose, one of those friends, an African-American woman in her 50’s, said with sardonic eyes, “I didn’t care.” She meant it. Prior to Mitch Landrieu’s grandstanding two years ago, in fact, I had never heard anyone, of any race, say they were bothered by the icons on pedestals, and I do have a diverse network of friends – real ones, close ones, who wouldn’t hesitate to speak their minds.
Perhaps it is an embarrassment to my Tulane education (although I was not a history major) that I had no idea who PGT Beauregard was. I had driven past his statue but never really paid attention. I had never seen the Liberty Monument, but agree that one – and only that one – was truly in need of removal.
But here’s the slippery slope: Jefferson Davis is gone (and I had never noticed his statue, either), but a major street still bears his name. Tulane University and Hospital still have his. Multiple schools still have McDonough’s. Where will or does it stop?
President Trump said some stuff about that, too – and I truly HATE agreeing with him, on anything. But his point (at least in part) was somewhat valid. Where DOES it stop? The Jefferson Memorial? The Washington Monument? The name of our Capitol City?
Last weekend I talked with a neighbor at my weekend abode in the CBD about this blather. I asked him if he knew who Gravier Street – where he lives and I weekend – was named for. He didn’t. Neither do I. I also don’t care. Nor do our neighbors and apartment-sharing roommates. What about General Ogden? No clue who he was. General Taylor? Ditto. And while we’re at it, my Protestant self has never even pondered who St. Charles is – yet our (arguably) most iconic street is named for him.
Carrollton? Claiborne? Hell, I know who Simon Bolivar was, but not those guys. They may have been governors, long ago. They probably did bad things. Name a street Goebbels or Hitler, I’ll get it and I’ll protest with the rest. Casting this broad net, however, is counter-productive. It invites counter-protests. It invites violence, here and elsewhere.
Thanks, Mayor Landrieu. Don’t let the rioters hit your ass on the way out.