Mar 132017
 

After protests over the election of Donald J. Trump as President on Wednesday evening, a city employee begins pressure washing a “Black Power” slogan from the Robert E. Lee monument in New Orleans on Thursday morning. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

The clock has been ticking for New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. Now, the final bell may have tolled.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plans to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis had benefited from a temporary reprieve while an appeal was argued in the U.S. Fifth Circuit. Now, that appeal has been denied, eliminating the last legal hurdle for removal.

Another monument on the chopping block commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place was governed by a separate order in the Louisiana Eastern District; however, the judge in that case subsequently ruled that his order does not preclude the city’s plans.

To be frank, there were few legal arguments offered by the appellants fighting Mayor Landrieu’s plan that held any legal water. I had initially reached the opposite conclusion, but ultimately it became clear that, for better or worse, historic monuments have virtually no protection under state or federal law unless previously declared as National Historic Landmarks. Beyond that, local governments have carte blanche.

There is still some slim chance that the monuments will be saved. The state could still step in by passing a so-called “heritage act,” legislation that places all monuments over a certain age under state protection. However, it is unlikely that anything will hit the governor’s desk in time (and even if it did, it seems unlikely that Gov. Edwards would sign it given his past statements).

For its part, the city is trying to move fast. Transparency is out the window; an anonymous donor will supposedly foot the bill for the removal, and the city has elected to hold off on revealing the names of those submitting bids until after the process is complete.

The bid went out last Tuesday, and the city plans to award a contract at the beginning of April. As predicted, the Request for Proposals indicates that Mayor Landrieu would like to have his cake and eat it too — with the Lee and Davis Monuments, for example, he plans to keep the pedestals intact and simply remove the statutes.

Presumably, this means that Landrieu wants to repurpose Lee and Davis’ pedestals, paid for by Civil War veterans and their families, for some other undefined purpose. That’s crass and, of course, destroys the physical and historic integrity of both monuments.

Also, it is unclear whether it is even possible to remove Lee’s statue, which stands a whopping 16-and-a-half feet tall, without irreparably damaging it. When the city solicited bids before the process was halted by litigation, contractors opined that they were being given insufficient information on how the statute is actually attached, which may make it impossible to remove intact.

Moreover, forcing the process along at an accelerated rate, as Landrieu seems hell-bent on doing, only increases the possibility that the removal (or partial-removal, as the case may be), will not be executed properly.

For all Landrieu’s talk of preservation, he doesn’t care one whit about keeping the monuments whole and undamaged. Two of the monuments will be treated as interchangeable platforms, and at least with Lee, the statute itself may be horribly marred.

The reason for Landrieu’s actions aren’t perfectly clear, but it has been suggested that he doesn’t see a career in Louisiana politics on the horizon and is now jockeying for a plum position with some a left-wing nonprofit, such that pursuing a radical and broadly unpopular position on Confederate monuments actually boosts his chances. It may also be that he’s sincere, i.e., so tone-deaf that he actually believes his divisive actions have promoted racial harmony.

I’m not sure which possibility is the most disturbing – corruption or incompetence.

Indeed, if there’s been any positive influence from Landrieu’s scheme, it has been that other states have begun to pass heritage acts as a bulwark against similar mischief. Tennessee and North Carolina have already passed heritage laws, and just this past Thursday, the Alabama Senate passed Alabama Memorial Preservation Act following spirited debate. The efforts to remove monuments in New Orleans have been cited as a prime motivator for this legislation.

As this saga appears to reach a close, perhaps that will be the only silver lining. Our experience will not drive other cities to remove Confederate monuments. Rather, we will serve as a cautionary tale, encouraging other states to pass legislation mandating that history be preserved.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • Rob Graham

    Does he plan on erecting a statue of himself on one of the pedestals?

    • Owen Courrèges

      Rob,

      It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, I still see expensive brass plaques in the street from Marc Morial’s Administration celebrating his contribution to “sidewalk improvements.” Our mayors do tend to have a bit of a banana republic flavor to them. Toppling monuments strikes me as Landrieu’s latest contribution to that.

  • Emily Gilly Withrow

    They better not remove these. Removing them doesn’t help a thing.

  • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

    All this forecasting of damage to these statues is based on what– your need to pontificate? Does the contract require demolition or only removal?
    It’s not like the Mayor has proposed replacing the Lee statue with one of a branded slave, or of a lynching.

    • Owen Courrèges

      disqus,

      No, read more closely. The damage is based on what the contractors said in the earlier round of bidding. They could not guarantee the safety of the statues because the city could not provide adequate information. The contract requires removal, but nobody is going to guarantee the integrity of the statutes without proper specs.

      Here’s the source on that: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/at_monument_removal_meeting_co.html

      As for the rest, we don’t know what Landrieu is proposing because he hasn’t planned anything except empty pedestals and vacant sites. He put the cart completely before the horse.

      • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

        It seems quite clear that the contract requires that the statues be removed and transported to an unspecified location intact and undamaged. Contractors can get insurance to cover unintended damage.
        The Mayor is taking things one step at a time. Removal is one important step. Replacement is another big issue for the community.

        • Owen Courrèges

          disqus,

          It’s pretty clear that, regardless of what the RFP requires, the statues will probably be damaged. We don’t know how bad that damage will be.

          Also, it’s pretty clear that Landrieu is getting the steps out of order. How about we have new plans for public spaces *before* we start tearing out Victorian monuments?

          • Cannibal Special

            “the statues will probably be damaged” is total inflammatory propaganda and you know it. Shame on you, OC.

    • louise

      what they are saying that since they do not know how they are affixed, they may be damaged or destroyed.

      Look, Beauvoir, in Biloxi said they would take them and the council said no.
      So what is the real intention of Mitch, Suber and the City Council? All driven by hate.

      • Cannibal Special

        And General Lee looks oh so benevolent, with his sword, 60 feet up in the air, defiantly facing North …

  • Cannibal Special

    There’s no better salve for butt-hurt racists than hateful legislation from Alabama! Nice catch, OC. This was just the point of view I needed to round-out my Monday.

    BTW, I like that you’ve added Trumpy hypotheticals to your repertoire. “[T]he statute itself may be horribly marred” Really?! Getting a little desperate are we, OC?

    • Owen Courrèges

      Cannibal,

      As I noted, two other states have passed heritage laws. And in Virginia, a popular heritage law passed the legislature but was vetoed. This is a phenomenon throughout the south, and you can’t reasonably dismiss it as something brought about by “butt-hurt racists.” I guess the Monumental Task Committee isn’t about preservation at all in your view? Much easier to tar your opposition unfairly than actually deal with their concerns.

      Oh, and that wasn’t a hypothetical. The contractors in the earlier round of bidding opined that they couldn’t guarantee that the statues wouldn’t be damaged because the city could not provide adequate specs on how the statues are mounted to their pedestals. That’s something you need to know when moving statues that weigh more than your car.

      To wit:

      >>Two of the contractors seemed as worried about the safety of the statues as they were about their own security, since the winning bidder will bear the liability for any damage to the monuments.

      One asked whether the city had schematic drawings showing how the statues are attached to their bases. Without them, it would be hard, if not impossible, to remove the statues in such a way as to be absolutely sure they would not break, he said, adding that the risk of damage was particularly high with regard to the Beauregard monument. “It was constructed to be placed, not to be removed,” he said. “You guys are going to have some damage.”<<

      http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/at_monument_removal_meeting_co.html

      • Cannibal Special

        “Much easier to tar your opposition unfairly than actually deal with their concerns.” Well put – heal thyself, OC!

        The glaring omission in every one of these pro-Confederacy arguments is ANY acknowledgement of the concerns of the “opposition”. How do you propose that the majority of the residents of New Orleans parse this defiant, battle-ready, slavery-defending imagery so prominently displayed in our city? As I’ve noted many times, I’m not even black and I cannot for the life of me understand the fascination with the Confederacy. And stop hiding behind the “history” argument! The Civil War is permanently ingrained in our nation’s psyche, ad nauseam – it doesn’t need prominent public focal points to drive the point home.

        Let’s celebrate something good for a change, instead of glorifying war and hate.

        • louise

          If that is your thinking, why didn’t the city put it to a vote? This has been going on since 2015, so it sounds like it would fail, and mitchie ain’t takin NOOOO chances.

        • Owen Courrèges

          Cannibal,

          These memorials are just statutes. Of course they aren’t going to inherently convey a complex message; the most they can realistically do is cause remembrance of the Civil War and the individual depicted. And of course they aren’t going to try and address the concerns of both sides.

          If we’re going to start razing memorials from bygone times because mores have changed, we won’t be left with any historic memorials. The whole point of placing statues in the public sphere is to create a spaces that stand the test of time. If we want new, new, new, then perhaps we just need to give up on preserving anything from the past. I don’t think that’s the goal at all.

          • Cannibal Special

            OC, Your first paragraph neatly sums up the motivation behind this whole issue. The message conveyed by these monuments is simple, specific and one-sided. ‘Nuff said.

    • Drew Ward

      I feel Owen has been more than honest and transparent in making his personal bias toward leaving the monuments in place known. I can see where you might have read the discussion about reactionary laws and potential for damage as desperate ploys for leaving them in place, but since the column isn’t an argument against their removal, it’s obvious he isn’t going in that direction.

      Certainly there is concern that the removal and relocation of the monuments maintain their historical integrity and that no harm come to them as regardless of contextual merit, they are important artefacts of our local history, less so in reference to the Civil War itself, but mostly as symbols defining the various periods of struggle and collective community growth and maturity that has thankfully occurred since their having been erected.

      Presented in the proper context, these monuments are valuable historical assets that could be leveraged toward educating and fostering healthier spiritual growth for our citizenry both here in New Orleans and beyond; because of this they need to be handled properly and protected once in their new home. In that respect, Owen’s critique of Landrieu’s seemingly harried process for removal is valid.

      It’s not likely to be an issue in reality as the largest of the monuments, Lee, has already been fully dismantled, packed up and stored away off-site, and reassembled into its original form without damage. This was done by the City in the 1950’s when the entire circle and street surrounding it were excavated down around 10 feet or so to run new utilities for the area with new concrete sidewalks and the currently falling apart concrete foundation for the monument installed prior to re-erecting the monument itself. Supposedly, assuming nothing has been altered in the proceeding 50 years which unless undocumented shouldn’t be the case, there are only four large bolts holding the statue to the pedestal. These should be easily removed and accessible from inside of the observation deck immediately below the statue itself. A spiral staircase leads directly to the observation deck from the access hatch near the base, so it shouldn’t be a major undertaking in that regard. The biggest challenge, and it shouldn’t be much of one, would be to have the statue itself properly sling loaded and supported once the bolts come off so as to protect not only the monument but also the public below.

      • Deux amours

        Removal of the statue is easy, but most of the Lee monument will remain. Our anonymous demolition donor has limited funds for this purpose.

  • D, Turgeon

    Sorry, you lose and progress wins.

    • Owen Courrèges

      D. Turgeon,

      This doesn’t look like progress to me. Indeed, if progress means taking down all our monuments every generation because the people of the past didn’t make the decisions we would in the present, then “progress” strikes me as being more of a species of arrogance.

      • D, Turgeon

        Um, I think it amounts to more than just a few bad decisions made by our ancestors. It’s about what we stand for and honour today and in the future. If that sounds like “arrogance” to you, then you have my pity.

        • pfvayda

          excuse’ moi?

        • louise

          So what do you stand for? Honor today is what? Armstrong is old and passe in spite of his achievements, ala the confederacy, So lets return the airports name to Moisant, and take down the MLK and Armstrong statues. Also I propose the moonwalk be renamed for the patriarch of the Cvitanovich family…DRAGO.
          Mitch is – A king of shreds and patches.

        • Owen Courrèges

          D. Turgeon,

          Presentism is practically arrogant by definition. It refuses to view the past through anything but a biased lens. If you can’t understand the concept of Americans of the past having primary loyalty to their state, then you don’t understand what led men like Lee and Beauregard to fight for the Confederacy, and you certainly aren’t fit to judge it.

          • D, Turgeon

            Fine, except those publicly prominent monuments are more than mere historical relics. Their removal is not about how we view the past, but how we wish to view the future. It isn’t about visiting judgement upon their subjects, its about what we choose to honour today and for our collective tomorrow. If you are claiming that blind loyalty, violent civil strife and white supremacy are suitable subjects for high public honour and veneration, then we will have to agree to disagree.

          • Cannibal Special

            Hah! I’m sure there was no “bias” at work when these monuments were erected … (sarcasm). And as far as “judging” goes, I’m pretty sure everyone can agree on a big “thumbs down” to slavery!

    • louise

      History loses, we all lose. Karma is a bitch, no?

  • Deux amours

    I find it curious that no estimated value is assigned to the statues or what insurance or bonding requirement the city wants is revealed. Lost in the re-fighting of the Civil War and morality debates has been the recognition that these are valuable city assets, even if diminished by removal from their natal sites. The controversy has only increased their value. I would guess a million plus for Beauregard.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Deaux,

      Even the raw materials have a huge amount of value, but given the prominence of the artist and the important historical figures depicted, they are nothing if not valuable. Alas, I predict that the city will not charge market rate for them if they are sold off.

  • Turlet

    Only the legislature can deliver us from these cowardly Democrats destroying our history now. Perhaps we can learn from our more enlightened Southern neighbors and save these great statues from the extremists.

  • chicadee

    The city will place the monuments in storage indefinitely. Public input is being sought by the TP to generate ideas concerning what is to be done at Lee Circle. Wynton Marsalis suggests honoring all those who came to our aid following Katrina. A positive and uplifting purpose for sure.

    • pfvayda

      Is there anyone who still reads the tp?

    • Emily Gilly Withrow

      They are not going anywhere.

  • JimLeemann

    Just another step by Progressive socialists to re-write history they do not like or agree with.

    • louise

      What has got the liberal yankees in a fit is that although defeated the South remained proud, and continued to salvage that culture. But Suber, Mitch, Marsalis,et als want to destroy what is left.
      Monuments Men: If they were honest,
      they would tell us that.
      They’d tell us that with this many
      people dying, who cares about art?
      They’re wrong, because that’s exactly
      what we’re fighting for,
      for our culture and for our way of life.
      You can wipe out
      a generation of people,
      you can burn their homes to the ground,
      and somehow they’ll still come back.
      But if you destroy their achievements
      and their history,
      then it’s like they never existed.
      Just ash floating.
      That’s what Hitler wants.
      And it’s the one thing
      we simply can’t allow.

      • Njnhno

        What part of your culture and way of life are you currently not able to practice?

      • JimLeemann

        Louise, you have very succinctly described the essence of how Democratic Socialism morphs into full-blown Socialism morphs into Communism morphs into Fascism. This has happened throughout history and can happen in the USA if we do not take a stand. Sadly, rather than make history we seem to only repeat it.

    • Overbrook

      No, the re-writing of history is done by right wing socialists such as yourself who suggest that the Confederacy is something to honor, instead of the evil that it was. “Neither the civil war nor the confederacy were about slavery” – another favorite of the right wing socialists. Honor is what a statue in a public square does. If it’s history, put them in a museum.

      • JimLeemann

        Obviously, we have different opinions as to what one can learn from history. You might want to take a little time to study Civil War history and read the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that were incorporated as a result of the Civil War. Your comment proves my point that Progressive socialist want to re-write history they do not like or agree with. Thank you for calling me a “right wing socialists” even though I am not one, it was interesting learning what one is. You have lost me on the notion of separating the honoring of someone for the history they created. If this is the measure for erecting a statute in a public space, then I can envision a myriad statutes being dismantled in the coming years. The opportunity here is to LEARN from history so we don’t habitually repeat it.

  • reality check

    In a recent editorial, after the Court’s authorizing the Confederate monuments removal, Mayor Landrieu, Wynton Marsalis, and the Times Picayune all joined forces to again smear the military clad monuments of Lee and Beauregard. Wynton Marsalis, as an employee of Lincoln Center, is by all appearances a New York City resident and the owners of the Times Picayune have for generations been born and resided in New York City. It is hard to think that you would find many New York residents with any empathy towards many white Southerners’ views on the symbolism of confederate military monuments. And it is that symbolism which I address.

    Landrieu, Marsalis, and the Picayune’s editors all treated that symbolism in the one way direction of “supression”. In the Ken Burns PBS Civil War series Washington Roebling was quoted. Roebling was an officer in the Union Army in the 1865 battle of Petersburg where among the last of the Confederate armies was defeated. Roebling said, “The conduct of the Southern people appears many times truly noble, as exemplified in the defense of Petersbug. Old men with silver locks lay dead in the trenches side by side with mere boys of 13 or 14. It almost makes one sorry to have to fight against people who show such devotion for their homes and their country.” So there is a military symbolism of these uniform clad monuments which Landrieu, Marsalis and the Picayune would never speak of.

    With Landrieu, Marsalis, and the Picayune, symbolism and diversity have all been in a one way direction throughout this contest over the monuments.

    • Turlet

      Yeah, they want diversity, unless it means diversity of ideas. Then only their idea matters. In this case, it’s tearing down monuments that a lot of people love dearly.

  • Ron

    We always take a yearly trip to New Orleans. I can tell you now because of this removal that The Big Easy will have to do without our money from now on, and several others that we know. CYA!!!!

    • Emily Gilly Withrow

      You actually think we want this. The majority of residents DO NOT want this! They mayor doesn’t give a rats a$s what the majority wants. Honestly, (fingers crossed) i do not think this will ever happen. They have not gotten one bid since the bids reopened and the money donations they got is running low. I can not wait for someone else to be in office. I hate this fool.

    • Njnhno

      Your loss!

    • Turlet

      Some tourists told me that last year when the Democrats first started threatening our monuments.

  • Tim9lives

    It weighs 3 tons and stands 16 feet tall. It was cast in 6 sections.
    http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1279

  • BayouP
  • BayouP
  • Good lord this is?!!!!!
    3 multi homicides in 4 days and 47 comments on?!!!!!
    and we all loose by ignoring- http://thelensnola.org/2017/03/17/standing-tall-on-the-front-lines-of-justice-in-an-unjust-system/
    and http://thelensnola.org/category/land-use/
    and that poverty = big profit for those who benefit most when politicians can distract, divide, and conquer.
    Take em down, keep them up- ENOUGH!!!!
    The only good on this- is this-
    http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/stephanie_grace/article_703874d0-0416-11e7-a910-979ffb1abff6.html
    AB