With the death of each prominent New Orleanian comes a push to rename Lee Circle to honor the newly passed individual. Musical legend Art Neville has passed, and by the time this posts, it’s quite realistic that a public cry to rename Lee Circle to commemorate Neville will have surfaced.
Let this be clear, this piece in no way is disparaging, belittling, or meant as a slight against any of the great New Orleanians mentioned. They were all fabulous people. Unfortunately their deaths have been politicized on a sorely controversial issue in the Crescent City.
It should be lost on no one that the “Confederate” monuments were not erected as beacons of seceded Louisiana in the Confederate government. The “Confederate” monuments were erected to memorialize Southern stalwarts after they passed. When Robert E. Lee died in 1870, a group of New Orleanians met less than a month later to plan a monument of the Southern leader, a man respected by peers and enemies. New Orleans had a towering landmark 14 years later.
After Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard died, similar movements followed. In fact, following Davis’ death in New Orleans in 1889, his funeral at Gallier Hall drew 20,000 people and remains the largest funeral held in the city. Contrary to contemporary desires, the deaths of these three Southern men were massive in their meaning to New Orleans.
The three historic artworks remain hidden away by the LaToya Cantrell administration. Beauregard Circle looks like a pineapple. Davis’ base is a platform for vandalism. Lee Circle still has the Robert E. Lee monument’s urns, mound, and column.
Several high profile New Orleanians have passed away since Mitch Landrieu initiated the removal talk in June 2015. That list includes Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Tom Benson, Leah Chase, and Dr. John. Leftists and transplants plagued with white guilt create petitions to rename for each individual. The newspapers, now singular, usually follow up with an editorial, desperately proclaiming the need to honor the individual while inserting them in a divisive local controversy. The petitions circulate and none compare to the number of people that signed to preserve historic Lee Circle.
The struggle for Liberals to find a new name for Lee Circle means two things. First: the Removalists are still clamoring for a hero to help them erase old New Orleans culture. Second: It’s still Lee Circle and the evidence that it will be Lee Circle is that no one individual is big enough to occupy it. Except maybe Donald Trump, where you can now sign the petition to put a Trump statue in Lee Circle to trigger snowflakes and skyscreamers. (Think that this would make Trump smile down almost mocking the skyscreamers.)
Maybe the Left can give Lee his column and create a new multi-person circle—Everybody Circle. Of course that reinforces the message that it takes several people to fill the space that was held individually by General Robert E. Lee.
As local figures depart the Big Easy for the big concert in the sky and the General remains locked up and off his column, the search for a new identity will continue. Meanwhile New Orleans loses its unique culture with each passing, whether monuments or local artists.