Right now, the City of New Orleans, which has been removing statues of Confederate generals, will is taking down the last one: a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee that has stood over Lee Circle, near the French Quarter, since 1884.
As a general rule, I am against taking down monuments. To me, it’s about erasing history, and that is not something we should do, even if the history is painful. I believe we should look upon our monuments, and contemplate their meaning. Why did people once revere this man, or this event? Why was this monument built? Were the people wrong to build it? What does it say about our collective history? How have we changed? Who are we, anyway?
Taking down the monuments in New Orleans will help erase cultural memory of the Confederacy. But it will not change history. For better or worse.
But I do not have a lot of emotion about these particular monuments. The city of New Orleans began by removing a monument to a white supremacist rebellion, and that was an unambiguously good thing, in my estimation. Then they took down a statue of Jefferson Davis, and one of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. I would not have done that. Davis and Beauregard fought for the wrong cause, but that doesn’t make them non-persons. Still, I can live with their exile from public view.
The removal of the Lee statue, though, strikes me as a serious and unnecessary wound. I think it a blessing that the Confederacy lost the war. Lee fought for a bad cause. But Lee, for all his sins, was a complex figure, one worthy of honor — again, despite his sins. Very few men we honor with statuary are saints. I would have left the Lee statue alone, had it been up to me. He is a tragic figure who represents an unforgettable part of American history. For over 100 years, the statue of Lee, and his name, have been part of the city’s fabric. Until today. This is all on Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
On the other hand, I put myself in the place of black residents of New Orleans. Lee and the others fought for a government that wished to keep their ancestors enslaved and brutalized. That too is a severe wound. This is why though I regret that they’re taking the Lee statue down, I don’t grieve it. If this is the price white people pay for the sin of slavery, then so be it.
But here’s the thing: taking down the statues will embitter some white New Orleanians while doing absolutely nothing at all to make life better for black New Orleanians. Look:
Just a few miles from where crews took down the statue of Gen. PGT Beauregard in New Orleans, shots rang out 5 times in less than 10 hours.
The first shooting came around 5 p.m. when a man was murdered in the front yard of the Mount Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church in the 3700 block of Louisa Street.
Pastor Darrick Johnson said it just goes to show how times have changed in his Ninth Ward community.
“I was totally surprised because that has never happened in the 50 years of existence of this church, it has never happened in front of this church,” Johnson said.
The other shootings happened between 5 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., in the 1800 block of Forstall Street, at the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Alvar Street, in the 1200 block of Feliciana Street, where a man was gun downed and killed in the door way of a home and in the 2200 block of North Galvez Street.
A man who did not want to be identified heard the shots on North Galvez.
“Innocent people getting hit,” he said. “There’s just too much, you know what I’m saying.”
All of the shootings happened in the NOPD’s Fifth District in the Seventh and Ninth Wards.
“It was really within a nine-hour span that all of the shootings happened,” WWL-TV Crime Analyst Jeff Asher said. “It was a lot of violence concentrated area. “Five shootings in one (police) district is really a rare thing.”
Go ahead, give Lee Circle a new name. Call it the Shabazz Roundabout, if you like. Does that do anything to relieve the violence and misery of black New Orleanians? This is like the old, bitter Chris Rock joke about how streets named after Martin Luther King go through the worst parts of town. Erasing history will do nothing to make the present better. If this is a victory, it’s a Pyrrhic one.