David Cox, the rector of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia, wrote a column about Lee and reconciliation in 2014. In it, he recounted a story about a woman asking him what to do with an old Confederate battle flag. Lee responded by saying, “Fold it up and put it away.”
Statues, monuments and/or naming streets or parks for someone is a way to honor them as well as to glorify their time period. By the same token, we also have a right to change the values expressed in our public spaces by our forebearers. History is replete with names changed to reflect changing times – in 2001, the New Orleans International Airport was renamed the Louis Armstrong Airport. This is after it was originally named for aviator John Bevins Moisant and the Moisant Stock Yards it was built upon (hence the MSY aircode designation).
The first monument to come down is the one memorializing the Battle of Liberty Place. It was erected in 1891 to commemorate the Crescent City White League attempt to overthrow the city’s Reconstructionist government after the Civil War.
Such a monument is an affront in our minority-majority city. As we approach the anniversary of the city’s surrender to the Union (April 29, 1862), the fully half of the citizenry who find the statues offensive have the right and the duty to remake New Orleans in a way which is uplifting and inclusive instead of reactionary and divisive.
Do we really need such painful public reminders that a war was fought to keep the ancestors of our African American brothers and sisters enslaved? No! It is past time to honor other people and ideals.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said:
Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile — and most importantly– choose a better future. We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context – and that’s where these statues belong.
Exactly – the emblems of the Old South including Confederate flags, would be better displayed in Civil War parks or cemeteries where people who want to see them can do so.
Another of the statues to come down is that of Robert E. Lee, who never even visited New Orleans. His Confederate-uniformed image glaring northward in what once was Tivoli Circle is not a that of the principled, honorable man who worked to reconcile the nation and later became a university president. It is of a soldier who commanded the losing side during a war in which nearly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Hundreds of thousands more died of disease and this doesn’t even begin to discuss the civilian impact. Read this letter if you want to know which side his descendants come down on – A Letter from Robert E. Lee IV Regarding the Lee Chapel Flags.
I am all for remembering history because those who don’t are condemned to repeat it. But it needs to be actual history we remember, not the alternative one that is so often mythologized by apologists for the Confederacy.
It’s 2017. It is past time to take them down and put them away.