May 222017
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

After 133 years of standing tall over the New Orleans skyline, Robert E. Lee has been toppled. The last removal of Confederate statuary has unceremoniously been effected.

For Mayor Landrieu, this has been marked with a great deal of self-congratulation. In a speech delivered to a select elite at Gallier Hall, he vigorously defended his removal scheme. Pundits have spoken openly about how removals may enhance Landrieu’s political capital. The New York Times even cited him as a possible presidential nominee.

If I were Landrieu, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Once those kudos from certain political quarters subside, Landrieu can expect to continue receiving the usual criticism for his wrongheaded policies as crime increases and the local economy worsens.

The question now becomes what to do with the monument sites, particularly Lee Circle. On this score, Landrieu has pretermitted any debate. In a press release put out by the administration on Thursday, the city announced that the column would remain, and that the city would “be undertaking public infrastructure improvements to include a water feature at the circle.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Landrieu is leaving the majority of the Lee monument in place wants to add some kind of fountain, presumably in time for next year’s Tricentennial Celebration. And I assume Mayor Landrieu will give another flowery speech at the dedication.

The Monumental Task Committee (MTC), the non-profit which maintains New Orleans’ historic monuments, quickly criticized Mayor Landrieu’s plans in a press release.

“The City has several fountain monuments that are in dilapidated condition,” the press release explained. “The Simon Bolivar, Loewenberg, and West End fountains are eye sores that no longer even function. Refurbishing any of these deplorable, city-owned sites to become Tricentennial Fountain is a much more cost effective and practical idea.”

The city already hosts three fountains that are don’t work and are literally falling apart. But repairing an existing fountain wouldn’t serve Mayor Landrieu’s legendary ego, so he’s planning on building another at taxpayer expense.

This is par for the course for Landrieu, who has previously mocked citizens who would rather the city focus on repairing our streets than building garish fountains in the CBD.

The mayor usually gets his way in these matters, but there’s still some room for public comment. Local blogger Jeff Bostick, who supported Lee’s toppling, wrote briefly last Friday describing Landrieu’s plan as “goofy” and indicative his plans to “turn the Tricentennial into his own personal graduation from office celebration.”

“But he’s not turning 300, the whole city is,” Bostick continued. “And these public spaces belong to all of us. So maybe we should broaden the discussion about what to do with them. If that takes us longer than the end of Mitch’s term to figure out, then so be it.”

Many people have offered their own suggestions for Lee Circle, usually proposing generic Katrina memorials or monuments to various New Orleans entertainers. Since I’m not particularly enthusiastic about anything I’ve heard so far, I’ll bite and throw in my two cents.

To wit, if the Lee statue isn’t coming back (and that ship has unfortunately sailed) think that it should be replaced with one of Assistant Police Superintendent Louis Sirgo, who was murdered in 1973 during the notorious Mark Essex spree killings.

I wrote a column about Sirgo three years ago providing the basic story of his background. To recap, Sirgo was a WWII veteran who joined the NOPD in 1946. After becoming a detective, Sirgo enjoyed short-lived TV fame when co-starred in a Dragnet spinoff, N.O.P.D., which ran for two seasons in 1956-57 and also yielded two B movies. It was the first major TV series filmed on location in New Orleans.

Sirgo left the department in 1964 and became a clerk in traffic court. However, in 1970, during the first term of Landrieu’s father, Sirgo was asked to return to the force by then Chief Clarence Giarrusso who was seeking to improve the image of the department.

When Sirgo returned to the NOPD, the department was mired in conflict with the Black Panthers. In October of 1970, there was even a shootout between Panthers and the NOPD in front of a police district house.

On November 19, 1970, the NOPD went to the Desire Street projects to oust the Panthers. A violent confrontation was avoided, largely due to Louis Sirgo’s efforts. In the wake of the confrontation, Sirgo delivered a noteworthy speech to a Golden Key Honor Society gathering, in which he decried entrenched poverty and mistreatment of racial minorities.

“[I]f there were no ‘Desires,’ there would be no Panthers,” Sirgo explained. “We must face up to our responsibility, and in facing up to this responsibility, we must also be prepared to deal with the greatest sin of American society, and that is the status of the American Negro.”

Sadly, Sirgo was killed during Essex’s murder spree three years later at the Howard Johnson’s on Loyola Avenue (today a Holiday Inn). Sirgo was shot in the back in a stairwell as he attempted to rescue trapped officers. The plaza in front of police headquarters was dedicated in his memory.

Today, the NOPD and the public at large can certainly benefit from Sirgo’s example. If private funds could be raised to commission a statue of Sirgo, I know I would certainly feel comfortable with him taking Lee’s place and looking over the city.

At the very least, I think that a monument to Sirgo would be more appropriate than a self-congratulatory “water feature” to commemorate Mayor Landrieu’s departure from office. Surely we can plan something better than that.

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

  44 Responses to “Owen Courreges: The New Orleans hero who should replace Robert E. Lee atop monument”

  1. The retention of Lee’s column and accoutrements for reuse is a cultural and artistic abomination. Landrieu may buy paintings to match his sofa, but nobody buys statues to fit a base they own. The remnants are militaristic, and it will always be associated with Lee. Perhaps he will include a plaque giving credit to the white supremacists and their children who built it.

    • Deux,

      I actually agree with you there, but tearing down the column would cost a fortune, and I also hate to lose the entire monument. I do think an acknowledgement of the monument’s history would be in order, but of course there’s no way Landrieu would handle that tastefully.

      • Wouldn’t the column have to be torn down in order to re-make the whole area into a fountain?

    • 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.

      “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the example of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

      Robert E. Lee

  2. Personally, I’d like to see Carondelet at the circle. He was a beloved, respected governor of the Louisiana Territory. A Spaniard, Carondelet was retained by the French when the territory changed hands. He undoubtedly worked to expand the city by creating a highway to other settlements along the river. The street was named for King Carlos of Spain, familiarly known to us as St Charles Ave. The streets that run parallel to it are Carondelet and Baronne. Baronne is the family name for Carondelet’s wife.

    • ultimateliberal,

      I think pretty much anybody involved with slavery is out. The slightest taint will remove them from consideration.

      • That pretty much condemns anyone of wealth who was born prior to 1850.

        Let us rename our streets—Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, etc……obliterate them from memory! John McDonogh, also—and Claiborne. Definitely Claiborne, and his descendant Lindy Boggs. Oops–Lindy was born well after 1850.

        • ultimateliberal,

          Bingo. Take ‘Em Down NOLA wants to do all of that. They’re certainly not going to be on board with anybody of wealth born prior to 1850, and Landrieu’s logic for removal doesn’t give much reason to distinguish.

          • I do hope “Take ‘Em Down” will move on now or they will be disappointed to find they do not wield the power they dream they do. If they continue with their raving about Jackson, or General Pershing, or Napoleon they will abruptly find they just hitched a ride on a righteous issue that was never theirs to begin with.

  3. In truth, it will always be called “Lee Circle” by those of us that grew up here and love New Orleans. Mitch will only be able to re-name it for future generations that won’t even know who he was without the help of Google.

    • Sorry to disappoint you. I am already calling it “the circle” without naming it. It’s the circle at Howard and St Charles.

      • Wow, you are​ so enlightened… Is it exhausting to constantly try to not offend yourself? You really are the ultimate (stereotypical) liberal.

      • Yep. “Tivoli Circle”

      • You don’t disappoint me in any way, UltimateLiberal. I expect virtually nothing constructive from an anonymous poster on the internet that boasts about being an extremist in their screen name.

    • We all know that that will never change.

    • Actually and Legally it is called “Tivoli Circle” It’s legal name is not “Lee Circle”

      Sorry Jackie Martello.. Oh.. I used Google for this info..

      • Like I said to the other political extremist like you, don’t be sorry blewshead. Most of us that grew up here, love New Orleans, and love our State will call it always call it “Lee Circle” long after Mitch’s political career ends and he moves to D.C. in search of another taxpayer-funded job.

  4. I think the best person to replace Lee would be Andrew Higgins. He’s the man who won WWII. And the street named in his honor starts at the circle.

  5. Where is there a statue to Higgins? Is there a tribute to Jim Eads? Where is there a statue to the great Baldwin Wood, who over 100 years ago engineered the pumps that make this large a city possible? The “Wood Screw” design is still used today and is used throughout the world. There are so many great New Orleanians that deserve tribute. What about James Lapeyre Sr.? Possibly Louisiana’s most influential inventor of the 20th century.

    • boathead12,

      I’m looking for something more where it would be easy to get a movement going to raise private money for a new statue that would satisfy everyone. First of all, police unions and nonprofits could probably help raise the necessary funding. Secondly, a police monument would be more amenable to those angry over Lee’s removal, and for those who supported it, nobody can gainsay that Sirgo was a progressive influence on the NOPD.

      • Sounds divisive if you are making the case to bring the community together. Nothing against Louie however this was a time a terrible racial strife.

      • I am a local figurative sculptor and would love to see a compositional piece focused on culture..using some of our early musical and artistic talents…. Mahalia Jackson, James Booker, Marsalis guys… that’s a neutral topic…

      • The people angry over Lee’s removal are in a position to help develop NOLA into a robust modern economy, and adamantly refuse to do so, prioritizing the protection of their own little fiefdoms. Now I am excluding the loony confederates from those angry over Lee’s removal.
        These people need to do something positive for the City.

    • Baldwin Wood should be at Lafitte and Broad, which used to be the “bathtub” of the city when it rained in the late 1800s. My great grandfather was a colleague and engineer who worked on the extensive network of pumps and canals, most notably along the Broad St corridor and the Washington and London Ave Canals where we still find some off the lower areas of the city

      • Wouldn’t it be great for that intersection at Broad and Louisiana to oneday host such a tribute? Sigh. One day a long way from now.

    • Tulane used to house the Nydia, the yacht that belonged to Baldwin Wood, but removed that during a renovation/expansion of the University Center building. Come to think of it, I am noticing more and more of a similarity between the mayor and the former (and controversial) Tulane school president, Scott Cowen, as in both being committed SJW types and my-way-or-the-highway leaders who proceeded with controversial initiatives, which in Cowen’s case included several instances, probably the most notorious having been the ending of Newcomb College and the attempted change of Tulane’s athletics classification from NCAA Div. 1 to Div. III.

      • Tulane fulfilled their obligation to Nydia, per the terms of Woods gift. She is now back on the gulf coast, where Wood frequently sailed her, at the Biloxi Maritime Heritage Museum.

  6. Won’t work. Sergio was shot and killed by Mark Essex, a black nationalist that would be a hero to the Take Em Down crowd – if they knew who he was. Like Dylan Roof, Essex wanted to start a race war. Moon Landrieu didn’t take the bait. His son, unfortunately, did, and has done more to harm race relations in New Orleans than anyone I can remember.

    • You are correct about the mayor and also about Mark Essex being a hero to at least in the militant pro-removal group. Nonetheless it’s time for the rest of the city to send that group a message to cool it. They’ve gotten something of what they were wanting, a pretty significant something, and now it’s time for them to accept not being able to get something that they were wanting, just it is now for many of us.

    • Dualistic thinking limits your worldview

    • Please – removing the statutes isn’t starting a race war. It’s there erection in the first place that did.

  7. The column was meant for General Lee and was paid for and erected by the private citizens who commissioned the sculptor. It should remain empty and void of any further décor or maintenance until we have someone in power with the sense to put the General back where he belongs.

  8. We should be true to the NOLA heritage and non racist. Louis Armstrong at the new Armstrong Circle..

    Sidney Bechet, Mahalia Jackson, Dr. John, JellyRoll Morten, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Louis Prima, etc,etc..+

    We should be putting up statues to our wonderful musicians who put NOLA on the map!

  9. Owen, nothing could and nothing should replace something that is irreplaceable. Better to let the area become a true symbol of what Landrieu has done to our city. Let it spiral into a trash filled area for thugs and drug addicts. People are boycotting TP and the Advocate after finally giving up on reading anything that even resembles truth on their web sites. You need to become our news source and voice.

  10. Mitch’s monument removal scheme is a massive distraction attempt from his epic failures as a Mayor of New Orleans. He has ZERO accomplishments while in office so what does he do? He manufactures a debate, creates division, and low-and-behold he has the solution. Suddenly he has a success to shout about. Don’t think about his prior support of the confederate flag, don’t think about his destruction of the police department, his raising of taxes, parking fees, traffic cameras, and local culture crackdowns. Don’t pay any attention to his lack of interest in creating jobs and opportunity for African Americans, combating poverty, improving access to health care or mental health care, the murder and violent crime epidemic, the homelessness epidemic, rampant corruption in City Hall. He only wants you to focus on how much he cares about the feelings of African Americans. Getting shot, raped, slipping into poverty and homelessness all take a back seat to personal offense.

    As Mitch’s tenure come to a close, he needed a gimmick to salvage what remains of his political career. Being Mayor of New Orleans has not improved his resume, there’s no hope of any election wins in this red state, the monument removal was his last grasp at ANY political future. The question is- is it enough to over shadow his epic failures?

  11. Lee Circle is Lee Circle, despite the communist desecration. The “healing process” will begin when the statues are returned to their proper places. Many of us will not accept whatever leftist trash Landrieu or the next mayor see fit to erect.

  12. My suggestion – don’t do anything. Leave the empty column as is.

  13. Long before it was “LEE” Circle, it was Tivoli Circle — a place of fun and enjoyment. Perhaps we should revert to the former name and the former concept. Perhaps it could be a place to honor some of our REAL heroes — the dozens of musical artists who have made New Orleans such a unique place. Naming just a few — Buddy Bolton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Tuts Washington, along with many of more recent vintage. These are greats who actually did something for our fair city, and whose achievements have lasted and served as foundations upon which others have based further musical achievements. It’s only fitting that New Orleans recognize their musical accomplishments.

  14. We could rename it Veterans Circle and mount an eternal flame atop the column, akin to the Statue of Liberty. The flame could be a natural gas flame emanating from a basin (should be easy to plumb), or an LED/fiber optic array that would simulate a large flame that could be programmed to shimmer, change colors, etc. The LED fixture could bring a real wow factor to the space, marry the old with the new in a quintessentially New Orleans way. And we could mount the service branch flags alternating with US flags around the sidewalk. As others noted, the WW2 Museum is nearby. I think we could all get behind honoring our veterans.

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