The latest twist in the monument controversy in New Orleans is that the Monumental Task Committee won a competitive grant to restore a World War I monument, but the Orleans Parish School Board will not let them do the work.
News broke earlier this month that the OPSB revoked permission to restore the limestone arch, the first World War I monument in America. Today, the MTC announced it will be the recipient of a “WWI Centennial Memorials” grant made by the United States World War One Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. This grant program is a big pro-monument effort to recognize 100 World War I monuments around the country.
The Monumental Task Committee released a statement saying: “This generous grant allows New Orleans the opportunity to proudly display our great Ninth Ward Victory Arch for the centennial of the World War I armistice. While this project was first supported then prohibited by the Orleans Parish School Board, no reason has been provided for their objection to the MTC’s restoration, which will come at no cost to taxpayers. The 98-year-old Arch was funded by people in the Ninth Ward to honor veterans from the Ninth Ward. Hopefully the School Board will allow this grand Arch that honors New Orleans veterans to be properly restored.”
The Orleans Parish School Board owns the land on Burgundy Street in Bywater that the 9th Ward Victory Arch stands on. The School Board supported the restoration at first. On July 14, 2017 Eric Seling, the C.O.O. of the Orleans Parish School Board, made an introduction of the Monumental Task Committee to the KIPP C.O.O. The next day, the Deputy Chief for Facilities of OPSB signed a letter allowing permission of MTC to restore it contingent on KIPP approval, KIPP Renaissance High School being the school located right by it. Then on August 3rd Eric Seling sent Pierre McGraw, the President & Founder of MTC, another email stating, “After further research and discussion, I wanted to let you know that the proposed refurbishment of the 9th Ward Victory Arch is not one that OPSB will support.”
Seling did not respond to questions now that the grant was announced. He also did not respond to questions when the story first broke, although he did accidentally include Batiste when Seling forwarded the quote request to Sam Joel and Adam Hawf of the OPSB. It said: “This was the only email I received this evening on this topic.”
The potential controversy may be based on the plaque recognizing “colored” troops. The media always likes to point out when Confederate monuments were erected during the “Jim Crow Era.” The 9th Ward Victory Arch was built during the days of segregation. The reality is that this plaque was progressive considering it was put up to honor black people during the “Jim Crow era.”
The Eric Seling who opposes a World War I monument also worked in the Landrieu administration for several years, including as Mitch Landrieu’s Chief of Staff. Of course his great grandfather enrolled in the World War I draft and his grandfather was a World War II veteran. He’s from out of state and wants to control what happens to New Orleans’ historic monuments.
Meanwhile the Monumental Task Committee is a volunteer-run monument preservation organization that was founded in New Orleans in 1989. Its mission, which began due to the abundance of historic monuments in New Orleans that had been neglected, has been to restore, repair and forever maintain all monuments located in the city. They started a social media campaign earlier this month called #MonumentalNeglect which brings attention to the many neglected statues and landmarks in New Orleans. Pictures of the decrepit public artwork can be seen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
The major three mayoral candidates all said they would support the city’s historic sites and specifically the Ninth Ward Victory Arch. Mitch Landrieu has not weighed in. District C Council Member Nadine Ramsey ignored multiple requests for comment. Time will tell if the Orleans Parish School Board will once again go back on their decision, this time supporting the great New Orleans military veteran Arch.