Two years ago, then-New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a man without a plan, plucked the crown jewel of the Crescent City’s Civil War era monuments from its pedestal in an act of self-gratifying political theater.
But after the adoring national media moved on to the next Democratic flavor of the month (Beto!) and Landrieu exited stage left, a city that was celebrating its “historic” tricentennial was left with less history and nubs where landmarks had stood for over a century.
Perhaps the most egregious was the pile of bricks that remained from where General Beauregard’s magnificent equestrian monument had been clumsily removed. Its remains, resembling the calling card of an ISIS history eradication team. Because Landrieu had no plan nor care for the aftermath of his crass attempt of a notable political legacy, the exposed brick support was still there when King Felipe VI made an appearance at the New Orleans Museum of Art for the city’s 300th anniversary.
His Majesty’s motorcade had to pass where General Beauregard once overlooked Bayou St. John. You have to wonder what the King of Spain thought when he saw the rubble of where something once stood.
But the most noticeable vacant spot is atop the column that once supported the legendary Virginia general in a circle that no longer bears his name on street signage though is still listed as Lee Circle on Google maps.
Some time ago I had facetiously argued that the pillar should remain vacant and that the bowdlerized monument should be dedicated in honor of the father of peak statism, author George Orwell. The British writer’s tome about the world’s most perfect totalitarian entity touched on the erasure of history and news that no longer supported the latest whim of Big Brother’s regime.
Unfortunately, Tulane professor Walter Isaacson has embraced the idea of leaving it empty as a monument to the “moment” an ego-maniac mayor focused his energies and city resources to achieving an end that was all about him. Mitch Landrieu does not deserve such an honor. Besides, his memorial will be the traffic pileups at the over-budget, poorly-designed, billion-dollar airport.
New Orleans needs to move beyond that period of acrimony that elevated to the forefront of the media the worst amongst us (the out-of-town white supremacists and the local cultural Marxists) and fill the void left by Mitch Landrieu.
And unlike the removals, which were bulldozed through by the mayor over a pliant city council without true input from the public, the people of the New Orleans area should have a direct say in what takes the place of General Lee.
Rather than entrusting the work and agenda of spacey consultants hired by the previous city regime, there should be a commission comprised of community leaders of accomplishment (as opposed to politicians and community activists- the Malcolm Subers of the world have done enough damage) to solicit ideas from people across the metro area with one guideline: Lee should be replaced with a concept not a tribute to a particular individual. There should be something that unifies the people.
Furthermore we don’t need to be putting any more dead public figures on trial.
After narrowing the concepts down to 8 to 12 proposals, the public should be able to vote on it just as they did with the naming of the Crescent City Connection in 1989. Furthermore, school children of all ages should be encouraged to participate in the vote, which could be done by mail in ballot to an accounting firm charged with collecting and counting the ballots.
Because the public will have been involved with the general design and selection, securing finding to finance the new monument should not be that great of a challenge as the people will have a sense of ownership in it. Perhaps bricks or pavers could be sold as a means of raising money and to replace the cracked cement around the pedestal.
Every time I drive past Lee Circle I cannot help but look up at the vacant space and dwell on the triumph of self-serving politics that resulted in dividing the area population and removing what was not just a piece of history but an impressive work of art that remains in a storage yard with an uncertain future.
New Orleans deserves the chance to move past the most visible reminder of Mitch Landrieu’s “Era of Bad Feeling.”