May 152017
 
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

We’re down to two. Of the four monuments hand-selected by Mayor Landrieu for removal, only two remain – those memorializing Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Pierre G. T. Beauregard.

If Landrieu remains true to form, he’ll leave Lee’s statute for last. It is the most prominent, the most controversial, and by far the most difficult to remove. The figure of Lee looming large over the city is a major fixture, and parting with it cuts deeply to many New Orleanians.

Many people, especially those who are younger, do not understand Lee’s history as an American icon of heroism, loyalty, benevolence, and reconciliation. Without a doubt, he has been held up as an inspiration to generations of Americans.

The complete record is too voluminous to recount here, but to cite but one small example, virtually every one of our presidents since the Great Depression have paid homage to Lee.

To begin with, in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the dedication of a new monument to Robert E. Lee in Dallas, Texas. There, he made the following remarks:

“I am very happy to take part in this unveiling of the statue of General Robert E. Lee.

All over the United States we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”

In the following years, especially during World War II, Robert E. Lee was often held up as embodying American gallantry and resolve, both home and abroad. Winston Churchill himself once remarked that “Lee was the noblest American who had ever lived and one of the greatest commanders known to the annals of war.”

President Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, also held Lee in high regard. Truman committed one of Lee’s prayers to memory and recited it often. He had presented his mother with a small portrait of Lee when he returned from service in WWI, which she kept by her bedside until her death. He later personally visited Lee’s statue at Gettysburg and wrote to his daughter lauding the “great man.”

Lee was no less loved by Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He had portraits of four great Americans in the Oval Office, one of which was of Lee. In 1960, a man wrote to Eisenhower, asking how Eisenhower could hold Lee, a man who wanted to “destroy our government,” in such high esteem. Eisenhower responded:

General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his belief in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

From deep conviction I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained .

Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.”

After Eisenhower, there was President John F. Kennedy. Despite being from the northeast, Kennedy openly expressed admiration for Lee. At a speech given during the presidential campaign in North Carolina in 1960, then Senator Kennedy remarked:

[A]s a New Englander, I recognize that the South is still the land of Washington, who made our Nation – of Jefferson, who shaped its direction – and of Robert E. Lee who, after gallant failure, urged those who had followed him in bravery to reunite America in purpose and courage.”

After President Kennedy was assassinated, he was succeeded by President Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson repeatedly invoked Lee in the cause of civil rights and ending segregation. While attempting to convince a moderate Arkansas attorney to take a seat on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Johnson compared his choice with that faced by Lee:

You just get Robert E. Lee out, and he left West Point. He left West Point, you know, and he said he’d have to get out of the federal army and go home and look after his people. That’s what you’ve got to do because we’ve got this problem. We’ve got to have somebody that’s got judgment, got eloquence, got ability, and that sit in a room with people and disagree with them without being too disagreeable.”

In October of 1964, after signing the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson attended a fundraiser in New Orleans and openly invoked Lee in support of civil rights:

For so long as I serve in the White House, your Government will be dedicated not to encroaching upon the rights of the States, but to helping the States meet their responsibilities to their own people. Let me be specific.

If we are to heal our history and make this Nation whole, prosperity must know no Mason-Dixon line and opportunity must know no color line. Robert E. Lee, a great son of the South, a great leader of the South–and I assume no modern day leader would question him or challenge him–Robert E. Lee counseled us well when he told us to cast off our animosities, and raise our sons to be Americans.”

Following the resignation of Johnson’s successor, Nixon, Gerald Ford assumed the presidency. In 1975, he opted to issue an official pardon to Lee. At the ceremony pardoning Lee, President Ford remarked, in pertinent part:

In 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote to a former Confederate soldier concerning his signing the Oath of Allegiance, and I quote: “This war, being at an end, the Southern States having laid down their arms, and the questions at issue between them and the Northern States having been decided, I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.

As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox.

General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.”

Next came President Jimmy Carter. Carter presided over the Iranian hostage crisis, and eulogized the American servicemen killed during that event at Arlington National Cemetery on May 9, 1980. He did so, in part, by comparing them favorably to Lee:

This very land once belonged to General Robert E. Lee. Like these eight men, he was a soldier whose affection for his home and family called him to a life of service that often meant hardship, loneliness, and long separation from those he loved and even from the Nation which. he most loved.

Robert E. Lee lived by the words that he wrote to his own son: ‘Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.’ The airmen and marines we are honoring today demonstrated by their lives and finally by their deaths that they understood and subscribed to that austere and honorable creed.”

It should be noted that Carter also openly came out against the removal of Confederate monuments in 2015, the same year that Mayor Landrieu announced his monument-removing initiative.

Following Carter, President Ronald Reagan too lobbed praised on Lee. At a meeting of the Texas Bar Association in 1984, Reagan said:

Robert E. Lee, this southerner who criticized secession and called slavery a great moral wrong, would become himself an American legend; yet a man who thought-though he rode off into myth and glory, would suffer cruelly in his own time. After the dissolution of his cause, he would work to bind up the Nation’s wounds. And to those pessimistic about the Nation’s future, he once said, ‘The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. ‘It is history,’ he said, ‘that teaches us to hope.’”

Following Bush, Sr., Reagan’s successor, came President Clinton. While in his previous job as governor of Arkansas, Clinton notably signed legislation that combined the holidays of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day with Robert E. Lee Day (a law that was reversed just this year).

After Clinton, Bush Jr. came into office. Addressing WestPoint graduates in 2002, Bush humorously noted that graduates could have followed the paths of either Lee, who graduated without a single demerit, or of General Ulysses S. Grant, “who had his fair share of demits.” By this standard, Bush acknowledged in a show of self-deprecation, he was “a Grant man” during his college years.

The point of the foregoing is to establish that Lee is a part of the national fabric. He stands among the panoply of national heroes, those who have traditionally been regarded as role models for future leaders. He is not simply a stand in for some “Lost Cause” narrative or a symbol of white supremacy, as Landrieu and his gaggle of hangers-on would have us believe.

By the time the Lee Monument was dedicated in 1884, Lee had been broadly accepted as a protagonist in America’s story. A large contingent of the G.A.R., Union veterans, attended the dedication. It reflected a healing of wounds and a source of common ground.

As a symbol, Lee has influenced many of the great events, and yes, advances of the past century. Although he led the Confederate army, he was invoked in support of civil rights. Although he was a soldier, he was advanced in the cause of peace.

Those who view this as a contradiction or a false history are refusing to understand the American experience. They are shutting their eyes and closing their minds.

And that is why the loss of Lee’s statue is a loss for us all.

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.

  • Richard E. McCormack

    General Lee was 10 times the man as anyone who supports tearing down the monument at Lee Circle. Those who advocate this are either willfully ignorant of the real history of Robert E. Lee, or they must want to erase all history with which they don’t agree – just as have the Taliban, the Nazis and the Communists over the past 100 years. In either case, it is pretty damned sad to see it happening.

    • Overbrook

      It’s not erasing history. It’s erasing a commemoration of evil. The sordid history of the Confederacy will always be with us.
      Does Germany have statues of the Nazi leaders for public display? Robert E Lee tried to invade the U.S. THREE times. What a great man.

      • Jackie Martello

        Yes. He was a great man. That information is conspicuously presented in every objective book on the subject.

      • James Wade

        Your arguments are now invalid. Godwin’s Law violation. Ignorance both of the Third Reich and of the Confederacy.

  • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

    Many great qualities in Lee. His unforgivable mistake was to choose rebellion over support for the Union.
    The vote of our elected council members was 6 to 1 in favor of removal of his statue. The mayor supports the council’s action. That’s how our (imperfect) democratic system works. The courts seem to agree.
    So removal can be applauded, resisted or accepted. Tributes to the lost cause are not being destroyed, there are more options to come.

    • Owen Courrèges

      disqus,

      I don’t think Lee’s decision was “unforgivable” given the mores of the time in which Lee lived. To say that Lee was morally obligated to turn his back on his state in 1860 shows a misunderstanding of how political loyalties worked at that time. I believe that I’m on firm ground here in agreeing with the analysis of Eisenhower and Johnson on that score.

      As for your analysis of the process, you are correct that a process for removal has been followed. I believe there should have been a public vote, but that wasn’t required and Landrieu wouldn’t risk one. The option I am choosing now in response to that is resistance, especially because I am not optimistic about the “options to come.”

      • Linda Cornish Rioux

        thank you Mr. Courreges ,,,

  • Buddy Gumbo

    It ain’t about Robert E. Lee. Its about the folks who put him up, when they put him up and why they put him up. If you don’t know that you ain’t been listening.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Buddy,

      I have been listening, but that argument doesn’t wash. The Lee Monumental Association was formed in 1870, during Reconstruction. From that time until the monument was dedicated in 1884, P.G.T. Beauregard served as First Vice President of the Association. Also during that time, Beauregard attempted to form an integrated political movement supportive of civil rights. As I noted in my column also present at the dedication was a large contingent of the G.A.R. — Union veterans. How do you explain all of this if the Lee monument was erected for the purpose of furthering white supremacy? Do you think the G.A.R. was there for that purpose? Beauregard?

      The truth is that Lee was a respected figure on both sides. The popular perception of him as a national hero was unifying. The idea that he was memorialized for the purpose of conveying oppression or dividing the country further is just not supported by the historical record.

      • Jackie Martello

        Exactly. The revisionist history to justify their extreme and vindictive politics should be well illuminated. Well done.

      • Buddy Gumbo

        Note who was being unified as set forth in the passage below:

        In attendance were local and visiting veterans of the Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee (many of whom had served under Lee) but also Union veterans who had served in the Grand Army of the Republic. In fact, like many monument ceremonies, the unveiling of the Lee statue served as a moment of reconciliation for white Americans.

        http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1279

  • Jackie Martello

    Lee had a huge following in the northern press and was well respected by nearly everyone on both sides of the conflict. He was a great man put in a terrible situation- and to judge him in the context of today’s vapid and extremist zeitgeist is to show no knowledge or understanding of history. Shame on the inept and self-serving mayor of New Orleans.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Jackie,

      Exactly. And that image of Lee — of a good man given a terrible choice in a specific historical context — has been invoked in support of the great causes of the 20th Century, including the end to Jim Crow. Johnson could credibly cite Lee in support of civil rights precisely because of Lee’s reputation. It’s bizarre, to me, that so many are either unaware of that or simply don’t care.

      • Overbrook

        Terrible choice? What was terrible about the Northern side? Lee chose the side of evil, which the Confederacy was, no matter how the sorry revisionists try to spin it.

        • Romulus

          There’s nothing evil about self sacrifice in the cause of local government.

        • Jackie Martello

          Overbrook, the entire northern invasion and the federal government’s disregard of the U.S. Constitution were both pretty terrible. Wouldn’t you agree? Ever read about Sherman’s war crimes against civilians? How about Custer’s war crimes? There are numerous evil deeds done by the Union officers and troops.
          Read: “War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” by Walter Cisco.
          The truth is out there if you wish to find it.

        • James Wade

          Are those whom you claim to be revisionists simply those who are more familiar with the era than you?

  • Riccardo E

    “refusing to understand the American experience” ?! Wow…

    • Owen Courrèges

      Riccardo,

      Yes. For the reasons stated and based on the extensive evidence cited.

      • Riccardo E

        Owen, I get your argument, but it’s still totally disregarding the “American experience” of millions of others.

        • Owen Courrèges

          Riccardo,

          I don’t believe that monuments of Lee have widely been experienced as symbols of white supremacy. National polls of black Americans show that they are heavily divided on removing Confederate monuments and the names of Confederate leaders from public roads. http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/07/01/confederate.flag.pdf

          • NOLAFUT

            National polls should carry no weight in the matter only citizens of the city should be considered. I have no idea what that poll would look like, but I get a little tired of all the advice form elsewhere. Seems like NOLA should get to decide the fate of it’s own affairs.

            Also that poll does nothing to prove you’re in touch with some one else’s experience.

  • Buddy Gumbo

    “In attendance were local and visiting veterans of the Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee (many of whom had served under Lee) but also Union veterans who had served in the Grand Army of the Republic. In fact, like many monument ceremonies, the unveiling of the Lee statue served as a moment of reconciliation for white Americans.”

    http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1279

  • Turlet

    Democrats absolutely don’t care about real history, which is why they are trying to erase it. We need our own newspapers to speak the truth and our own police or militias to protect us and our history. The leftists mace women in wheelchairs, attack us, and shoot people with paintball guns while the leftist police stand by. The police here are the armed wing of the Democratic party. The same is true of the firemen, the rubber stamp HDLC, the rubber stamp city council, and even many of the judges. Officially, we are not disenfranchised, but nothing about this situation was legal or democratic. Masked men tearing down priceless history in the middle of the night under a nuisance ordinance? Our monuments must go back up, while four leftist monuments need to come down, with “interpretive plaques” next to concrete stumps explaining why, as a warning to future leftists who get the urge to tear down history.

    • reality check

      Turlet, perhaps the Lee and Beauregard monuments should be disposed of in some honorable way. It is beginning to appear that the Mayor’s idea is to plant them in some place with “interpretive plaques” that will smear them for generations to come. There is enough racist hate in this town against Southern whites without providing ammunition for more of the same.

  • Scott E. Tyson

    Winfield Scott and George Thomas were both born in Virginia, like Robert E. Lee, and both confronted the same choice as Lee did when Virginia seceded and joined the Confederacy. The difference is that those two US Army officers remained loyal to the government that had educated and trained them, while Lee took up arms against that government. There’s a word for a man who does that. And, I might also add that Thomas was a much better general than Lee. He was the only commanding general on either side who never lost a battle, or even turned in a poor performance in one.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Scott,

      I don’t think citing two contrary examples (Scott and Thomas) negates the fact that people overwhelmingly felt primary loyalty to their state, not the federal government. I don’t know precise statistics, but I believe this held true for officers as well. Gen. Scott was old an infirm by the time the war broke out and was an anti-slavery Whig, which made him a more natural fit for the GOP later. His strong political inclinations (including a presidential run) make him a rather poor example of the circumstances faced by southern military officers. George Thomas had a wife who was born in the north, which is probably why he stayed with the Union, and was disowned by his entire family for doing so. Again, that’s not what normally happened.

      As I’ve said here and elsewhere, I think calling southerners who stayed loyal “traitors” reflects the imposition of present-day values on people who lived in the mid-19th century. Eisenhower’s analysis is correct; with limited exceptions, southern officers fought for the south and northern officers fought for the north. In the south, turning your back on your state was infinitely more likely to be seen as “traitorous” than going with the federal government.

      • Scott E. Tyson

        Thanks for responding. I just happen to think that southern officers who stayed loyal are more deserving of respect than those who took up arms against the United States. Southern Unionists were far from a small minority during the war, yet they are almost completely forgotten today. They are the ones who deserve monuments to their memory. Why would you want to venerate the men who dragged the South into a disastrous, and completely unnecessary, war? And I’m including Lee in that category because he almost single-handedly prolonged the war past the first year, and then refused to admit that he was beaten in 1864. Once Grant drove him into the trenches of Petersburg, Lee knew the game was up. But he refused to quit. How many lives were uselessly sacrificed over those final nine months? How much needless destruction of property took place just to appease Robert E. Lee’s pride? And even when his lines were finally broken at Petersburg, Lee still wanted to keep fighting, even as his army was disintegrating before his eyes. I find nothing at all admirable about that. And to think they call Grant a “butcher”. At least the lives he sacrificed weren’t in vain.

  • Scott E. Tyson

    The article has every president from FDR to George W. Bush offering words of praise for Lee, with one notable exception. Evidently, our 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, didn’t have anything good to say about the general who led the Army of Northern Virginia. That might have something to do with the fact that President Nixon’s great grandfather was mortally wounded on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. George Nixon was a private in Company B, 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and he suffered his wounds skirmishing with Confederate soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Scott,

      Interesting. I did look for a quote from Nixon, but didn’t find one quickly and, frankly, I didn’t want to spend much time locating a quote from a president who was forced to resign amongst a scandal. You might be correct about why I didn’t find anything.

    • NOLAFUT

      No words of honor from Obama, weird. Now what could be different in Obama and all the people quoted…….

      • Owen Courrèges

        NOLAFUT,

        I couldn’t find anything from Bush, Sr., either, so I don’t think it’s necessarily revealing. My point was not that every president made a point of praising Lee, just that most of the last dozen-or-so presidents did.

  • UptownLady

    Long may his monument stand!

  • morgj

    When the city started the process I started following the monument
    removal discussion at the University of Texas at Austin. The president of UT established a committe to provide options with doing nothing not being one of them. The president of UT selected the option of removing Davis and Woodrow Wilson. Did the UT academic community get it wrong or did they just have a better process that ended with a compromise. It can work if we don’t start with an all or none philosophy.

    There are several articles out there but here are two.

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Black-Lives-Matter-painted-onto-3-statues-of-6344400.php

    http://www.chron.com/local/education/campus-chronicles/article/UT-to-remove-Jefferson-Davis-statue-6442336.php#item-38488

  • D, Turgeon

    Oh, Lord: how many lost causes do we have to suffer through? Please, give it a rest, Owen.

    • Owen Courrèges

      D. Turgeon,

      I’ve written about this far less than, say, Jarvis DeBerry. It’s hardly been excessive.

  • reality check

    Mr. Courreges thank you for your well researched defense of Robert E. Lee. I have long thought such a character rebuttal was needed after James Karst’s yellow journalism smearing of Lee In the Picayune editorial of August 2, 2015, entitled “Robert E. Lee and the Slaves of Arlington”. Mr. Karst is the senior editor of the Times Picayune. Most notable of Mr. Karst’s yellow jounarlism was his editorial statement that Lee kept the slaves who were to be freed by his father-in-law’s will beyond the five year period designated in the will. Lee’s father-in-law died in October, 1857 and the slaves were freed under the will in “early 1863”. Go figure. Early 1863 is very close, counting will administration time, to within five years of Lee’s father-in-law’s death in October, 1863. And pay attention: In “early 1863” Lee was an involved general in the Civil War. Yet as executor of his father-in-law’s will Lee managed to free the slaves “At Arlington” notably very close to the will’s five year direction. Mr. Karst’s yellow journalism went further to rely on yellow journalism of the period that had alleged Lee stepped in to “himself administer” the lashes required for an escaped slave that the “slave-whipper” would not administer. Anyone who knows anything historically about Robert E. Lee would immediately recognize that Lee would have never lowered himself to physically whip a slave.

    But what can you expect from a senior editor of a Times-Picayune newspaper that he and the newspaper have been owned by a New York family since 1962.

  • reality check

    Mitt Romney’s comment that 47% of American’s were dependent on the government and Hillary Clinton’s statement that half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables” probably significantly led to both of their defeats in presidential elections. As a Southern white native who is now a FORMER liberal democrat of fifty years I now find the Mayor’s monument comments equally offensive. (I voted for Obama in the past two presidential elections). His repeated innuendo that if you were a native white Southerner and you supported keeping the Lee and Beauregard monuments then you were a racist and white supremacist. To native Southern whites, the military monuments of Lee and Beauregard are symbols of military Southern war dead of the Civil War. This was pointed out by a history professor in one of the early monument removal hearings. Sure, they may be symbols to blacks otherwise, but as the Mayor likes to put it, the Southern white native symbolism position is a part of “diversity”.

    For the naive who think that Mayor Landrieu should be a future vice or presidential candidate I will offer the following. The mayor could not be elected as “dog catcher” in a Louisiana state wide election. And it is balderdash to think that the democrats would even consider him as a candidate in a national election as divisive as he has been in his monuments “racist and white supremacist” politically foolhardy stance.

  • Phil Frady

    Apparently Owen never had the opportunity to study the history of these monuments. (none of us did as the facts were not in our history books). They were erected in the post reconstruction era, concurrent to the reemergence of white supremacy as the dominant political narrative and power structure in the old Confederate states, a time when laws were passed denying voting rights to former slaves, establishing “separate but equal” as legal doctrine, and putting into place laws that discriminated against former slaves in every aspect of commerce and employment. The statues were erected as a symbol of the reemergence of white power and intended to convey symbolically this fact. One solution is to establish a Garden of Reconciliation where the statues can be placed as part of an educational effort to educate and inform citizens and visitors as to the true nature of why these statues were erected. Then perhaps we can finally move past this shameful period of our history. One note, Robert E. Lee was quite explicit that no statues or memorials were to be erected to memorialize the Confederacy.

  • morgj

    The process was flawed from the beginning. The University of Texas at Austin was going through this at the same time. The president of UT went through a deliberate process to get options with doing nothing not being one. He then selected an option to remove Davis and Woodrow Wilson. No one got everything they wanted but a compromise was reached. Who got it right, I think UT did using the same argument that was presented here.

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Black-Lives-Matter-painted-onto-3-statues-of-6344400.php

    http://www.chron.com/local/education/campus-chronicles/article/UT-to-remove-Jefferson-Davis-statue-6442336.php#item-38488

  • Overbrook

    Why are you defending these statutes so much – these commemorations for these Confederate traitors and their apologists? It’s beyond belief. Lee tried to invade the U.S. 3 times. Fortunately, this “Great general” went 0/3. Jefferson Davis? Good gracious. Okay, there are more important priorities than taking these down. But in no way should there be statues to the Confederates.

    • Turlet

      Maybe all these great men who came before us were confused and somehow didn’t realize they were honoring traitors rather than heroes. Or maybe these Southern generals were among the best men we’ve ever had, and crazy Democrats attacking history are traitors.

    • James Wade

      During the 19th century one was expected to need an approximately 3:1 advantage to make a successful attack. To succeed with lesser numbers shows skill. To do so with greater numbers does not. I respect Lee and Grant, we shall not see their like again.

  • LetUsHavePeace

    There is absolutely no evidence that Robert E. Lee thought former slaves and their children were entitled to the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Lee honored the terms of his parole and did not publicly oppose the 14th Amendment; but his private correspondence leaves no doubt that he thought the niggers should be kept in their place. Grant avoided direct comment on the question when he wrote his memoirs; but you cannot read his final words about the man without recognizing that he thought Lee’s “loyalty” to the South was a moral failure. “The natural disposition of most people, is to clothe a commander of a large army whom they do not know with almost superhuman abilities. A large part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press of the country, clothed General Lee with just such qualities; but I had known him personally and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this.”
    Lee will survive as an historical figure without his statue; to pretend that the memorial was erected on public property for any reason other than the glorification of one race over another (itself a violation of the Constitution) is pure historical fantasy.

    • Owen Courrèges

      LetUsHavePeace,

      There’s no need for that language. While there is no evidence that Lee was particularly progressive vis-a-vis civil rights, he did personally oppose slavery and wanted it to be phased out. He also did actively support education for blacks. However, the biggest thing Lee did after the war was become an advocate of reconciliation between the north and south, as JFK explained. That’s a crucial fact, and it’s a major reason why he is so highly-regarded.

      As for Grant, his family owned slaves. He’s hardly blameless on that issue.

      I absolutely deny that the Lee Monument was in any way intended to glorify white supremacy. The G.A.R. had a major contingent present at the dedication. Beauregard, then an outspoken advocate of civil rights for blacks, was 1st Vice President of the Monumental Association and also attended the dedication. This also has to be set against the backdrop of the fact that nothing on the monument whatsoever has any racial element, and Lee was broadly known to be a conciliatory figure who had opposed secession and only reluctantly gone to war — not some political firebrand. In fact, I would argue that reducing Lee’s monument to “white supremacy” is the only historical fantasy being bandied about here. You’re ignoring all the contrary data and making blanket statements. I would argue my interpretation is far more grounded.

    • Romulus

      Nonsense and willful distortion of history.

  • Overbrook

    With all due respect to honest people like Owen who try to make the intellectual case for the legitimacy of these monuments (FDR and Woodrow Wilson never criticized Plessy v. Ferguson either; times change), note that the NOLA business community never had ML’s back on this. And the reason is that the Boston and Pickwick Clubs are next. (their sister organizations Momus/Comus et al will probably be safe). And nothing could be better for the city of New Orleans. The Clubs are not merely social organizations…they are boardrooms…one color boardrooms. They have worked like the devil for years to keep competition and business OUT of the city; they finance all of these neighborhood and historical committees that stifle the least bit of economic development. They are 3rd and 4th generation “Business people” who lack any of the business savvy of their forebearers and demand a muted economy so that their entire wealth isn’t squandered. They will tolerate SOME service economy movement – hospitals and hotels are fine, and SOME restaurants. Thus, entrepreneurs (esp African American) have run to Houston and Atlanta for decades. We need an open economy in New Orleans – desperately.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Overbrook,

      The thing is, times haven’t changed. The mainstream view is solidly against monument removal. Robert E. Lee is still well respected. The polling shows this. New Orleans leans hard left, and even here opinion is highly divided on monument removal (I actually think the monuments would have survived a public vote). Support for removal is a fringe view.

      As for your comments regarding the Boston and Pickwick clubs, I would agree that New Orleans is far too insular and that it holds us back economically. I’ve said that before myself. Exclusive private clubs where much business is decided are no doubt a symptom of that problem. However, they’re not the disease, and I don’t see how you could legally regulate them. We need to promote the growth of new wealth, as opposed to focusing on what old money does.

    • mayfairfly

      The last thing this city needs is the ghost of Dorothy Mae Taylor resurrected. As for your comment regarding having ML’s back, there are several members of those organizations listed on the tricentennial committees. Further evidence of members working with Landrieu is Landrieu approached Frank Stewart because of his past support. It wouldn’t surprise me if several members(even former Rexes) contributed to Landrieu’s secret donor fund.

  • He wasn’t the worst of the damn sesesh.