Owen Courreges: Can Mayor Landrieu really bring down the General Lee statue?

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Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Few people today recognize just how devastating the Civil War was, especially for the South.  The war resulted in over 750,000 deaths.  The South lost roughly a quarter of its male population of military age — 4 percent of its total population.  It constitutes the largest mortality event in American history.

Set against this backdrop, it comes as little surprise that memorials were built throughout the population centers of the South to commemorate the military and political leaders of the Confederacy and the soldiers who served under them.  Though the war was lost, the memories remained.

Yet, according to Mayor Landrieu, the days of Civil War Memorials in New Orleans are numbered.  In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Charleston, perpetrated by known Neo-Confederate and white supremacist Dylan Roof, virtually anything associated with the Confederacy is seen as a target.

Landrieu has specifically focused on the statute of General Robert E. Lee, the famed commander of the primary military force of the Confederacy, which adorns Lee Circle on the edge of the CBD.  At the end of a ceremony celebrating the one-year anniversary of Welcome Table New Orleans, a racial reconciliation forum, Landrieu explained his reasoning with a highly dubious anecdote:

“I began to envision myself as an African-American man driving down the street with my little girl behind me, approaching Lee Circle,” the mayor said. “And her saying, ‘Hey daddy, that’s a really nice statue, what is that? It’s so pretty.’ I say, ‘ Well, honey, that’s General Lee.’

He improvised the exchange, leaning in toward the audience, his voice soft and theatrical. “And she says, ‘Well, who was General Lee?’,” he continued. “‘Well, he was a great general. He fought in great wars for great things.’ ‘Well what kind of great wars for great things?’ ‘Well, the one we know him for is the Civil War.’…’Wow. He fought for me?’ ‘No, no, no baby, I’m sorry. I wasn’t clear with you. He didn’t fight for you. He was for the other side.’ ‘Oh, well why is that there? Is there another circle in the city, that’s for me?’

“And you see, right now I can’t answer that question, as a dad.”

Landrieu’s cloying, saccharine thought exercise belies the fact that neither he nor his hypothetical black father are capable of describing the Civil War to anybody.

Any fair-minded person would admit that Lee was a creature of his time, a time when most Americans tended to be more loyal to their state than to the federal government.  The issue of slavery was the greatest single catalyst for the war, thought ultimately the North and South had grown apart socially and economically, leading to ongoing discord culminating in most of the South seceding from the union.

Irrespective of their personal circumstances or political views, the typical 1860s citizen viewed themselves as honor-bound to fight for their state.

Lee, the most respected American general at the time, was not a supporter of slavery or secession.  Nevertheless, when he was offered command of federal forces determine to fight secession, he turned down the offer because it would force him to fight against Virginia — his home.  Instead, he followed his loyalties and took command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

The war was lost by the Confederacy from the beginning, with a massive loss of life on both sides.  Many of Louisiana’s young men were casualties.

For his part, Lee surrendered at an appropriate time and promoted the reintegration of the former Confederate states back into the union.  He successfully pushed for the establishment of state-funded schools for blacks.  As president of what is now Washington and Lee University, he repeatedly expelled racist white students for attacks on local black citizens.

Following Lee’s death in 1870, he was remembered fondly in both the North and the South as a capable military commander and a man of strong character.

Given this legacy, if Landrieu’s hypothetical father can only meekly explain that Lee “fought for the other side” to his son, then he doesn’t know much about Lee or the Civil War.  And that fault rests with Landrieu’s ignorance, not Lee’s statue.

The South is dotted with Civil War memorials containing statues of famous Southern leaders because it was a major event in our collective history and a complex one that defies simplistic explanations.  These memorials should remind us of the central figures of the war and the sacrifice of soldiers on both sides.  Scrapping them reeks of addled thinking and whitewashing.

Landrieu argues that getting rid of Civil War memorials is not about erasing history, but his explanations fall flat.  “We should never forget our history, just like we would never ignore the concentration camps in Auschwitz, just like you could never deny that the Confederacy existed,” Landrieu recently remarked.

“[T]he question that’s confronting the country today is whether or not those symbols should be on prominent places of adoration that reflect who we are today as a people.”

Comparing the mere existence of the Confederacy to a Auschwitz, the notorious murder-factory of Nazi Germany, is inflammatory in and of itself.  But the worse issue here is Landrieu’s suggestion that the presence of any memorial or statue commemorating a Southern leader from the Civil War is necessarily an endorsement of the Confederacy and racial subjugation.  Again, that’s a very simplistic notion.

Worst of all, it’s a distraction.  It’s a distraction from the failure of our city to create memorials of comparable quality to the Civil Rights movement.  As I’ve previously written, the city’s first memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., unveiled in 1974, is a bizarre-looking, egg-shaped, Lovecraftian grotesque.

Landrieu’s hypothetical father would probably drive by it with his son asking, “what’s that?”  The father could only respond: “Heck if I know, but it’s sure weird-looking.”

Likewise, the only new Civil Rights memorial constructed during the Landrieu Administration is that cheap, tubular-steel gazebo on South Claiborne.  It’s pathetic.  If you want to see the degree to which Landrieu genuinely wants to commemorate contemporary advancements in racial equality, look no further than the gazebo-with-no-roof.
Ever the notorious hack and panderer, Landrieu always seems to know just how to capitalize off of tragedy while simultaneously promoting discord and division.

Although there are no doubt many people who oppose the presence of Confederate Civil War memorials in the city, there was no massive public push to topple Lee’s statue before Landrieu’s public statements. Now, it’s a major source of public tension.

Worse, it’s all for nothing.  The Lee monument is on the National Register, and Lee Circle has likely been maintained with federal funds.  It’s doubtful that Landrieu or the council could successfully navigate a legal removal of Lee’s statue.  Even the notorious Liberty Place obelisk, removed in 1989, had to be replaced in a less conspicuous location following litigation.  And that was literally a monument to a state takeover perpetrated by the New Orleans “White League.”

Landrieu knows he can’t succeed, and he also knows that for an overwhelming majority of New Orleanians Lee’s statue is far from a serious concern.  His pitch for revamping Lee Circle into some sort of Kumbaya-writ-large icon of tolerance is just a cynical political ploy to bolster his bona fides in the black community after years of fighting against their interests. Symbolism costs less than substantive policy.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to work.  I think most New Orleanians can see through Landrieu’s shenanigans and aren’t about to stand for bulldozing our history.

Only time will tell, but as another great (and relevant) leader once said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

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.

74 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: Can Mayor Landrieu really bring down the General Lee statue?

  1. Slavery was the issue prompting succession. New Orleans was not a victim of Union aggression in the Civil War. Lee had admirable characteristics, but links to New Orleans?
    Move Lee around the corner to the Civil War Museum and revert to Tivoli Circle or put up a statue of Homer Plessy. Plessy lost, but so did Lee.

    • disqus_ain,

      >>Slavery was the issue prompting succession.<>New Orleans was not a victim of Union aggression in the Civil War.<>Lee had admirable characteristics, but links to New Orleans?<>Move Lee around the corner to the Civil War Museum and revert to Tivoli Circle or put up a statue of Homer Plessy. Plessy lost, but so did Lee.<<

      This is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, who is going to pay to have the Lee monument moved to the Civil War Museum, and secondly, where the Hell would you put it? It's a small museum and the monument stands 60 feet high (I guess you're suggesting we demolish the base, part of a historic landmark on the national registry, but you can't actually *do* that).

      As for a monument to Plessy, that's fine as well, but there's no need to raze an existing monument to do that and it would still need to be funded anyway. The lack of decent monuments to Civil Rights has nothing to do with whether the Lee Monument should be demolished.

      • You can’t say that soldiers fighting to uphold slave capital were “simply” fighting for “their state.” There were also Louisianans striking out for their freedom and supporting the Union, where is their monument to fighting for “their state”? Just replace the statue of Lee, and put Homer Plessy in its place. Hell, by accounts Plessy was a light skinned, bearded type; Confederates might not even notice.

        • Scott,

          There were very, very few Louisianans who fought for the Union cause (I think the number was roughly 5,000). Now, I certainly wouldn’t object to a monument to a prominent Louisiana unionist, but then you’d need somebody willing to pay for it. Similarly, you can’t just take the statue off of the Lee Monument and put somebody else on top. If you want a new monument, the old one will have to be demolished and somebody will have to pay for an entirely new one.

          • And I would respond that 5,000 freedom fighting veterans is smaller, but not ‘very few,’ much less ‘very, very few.’ And I hold to my position that you cannot say that people were ‘simply’ fighting for their state; it was a decision to fight for slavery that other New Orleanians didn’t make. Those 5,000 make that decision clear.

            your response reads very strangely; you seem to lack the imagination that New Orleanians wouldn’t pay cash to make a lost cause statue fall–and yet New Orleanians pay their trash bill every month.

            You have assumed that I didn’t know that, for statues to come down, there’s someone who has to pull it down. That’s weirdly insulting, but ok. If you want to resolve that, we could google a list of local authorized crane operators–there’s a ton in the Metro and in the state.

          • Also, I worry about the 5,000 number, Owen, and exactly who you might be leaving out of that number in your writings. I know you are not doing it on purpose, but It’s the whole point of having monuments, remembering honorable people who sacrificed for our freedom.

            so let’s try to remember. Prof Adderley has been quoted citing up to 20,000 free(d) black Louisianans fighting for the Union. http://www.knowlouisiana.org/4441/?utm_source=LEH%20e-news%20August%202015&utm_campaign=Aug%202015&utm_medium=email

            How many rushed to Butler’s aid at Camp Parapet in Jefferson? Why don’t we, two people that care about Louisiana history and the origins of our own freedom and polity, know the answer?

            That discussion also discusses the Native Guard. Of course, it’s silly to pretend that there weren’t free people of color that owned slaves or who were invested in slavery, but it’s interesting to look closely at the Native Guard. the Native Guard may have been specifically tasked to defend the structures of New Orleans against Farragut (successfully?), rather than defend the Confederacy. They didn’t seem to fight the Union much, and public Confederate New Orleanians don’t seem to have looked to them to do so–Anger was directed instead at Jeff Davis or Butler.

            I don’t think history is ever as simple as people “fighting for their state.”

        • You most certainly can say that (the vast majority of) soldiers fighting for the south were “simply” fighting for “their state.” If you did so, you would be making an accurate statement that is easily backed up by nearly all serious academic writings about the war. Even Robert E Lee himself is easily lumped into this category (soldiers fighting for their state rather than slavery), but honestly claiming that he fought for slavery is much more difficult and requires ignoring most of what is known about him. That’s not to say that the civil war WASNT fought over slavery. Sure it was, but that doesn’t mean that the people actually fighting in the war did so for the same reasons that their state seceded from the Union and ordered their state militias to organize for war. I’m case you’ve forgotten, politicians are often motivated by things that are completley contrary to the best interests of the citizens of their states. Further, as with most civil wars, some people will feel compelled to refuse to support their national government in military actions against their neighbors. That is just part of the complexity of civil wars,….its not treason to refuse to fight for the federal government against your own state.

    • We have a historical marker for Plessy down by the Press Street railroad tracks, but it is modest. Largely ignored is that we have a monument in front of the Supreme Court on Royal Street to Louisiana’s own United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Douglas White who joined in the opinion that Plessy and blacks for the next fifty years had to ride in the back.

  2. In all of the rhetoric about this and other matters of late, this is the first article I have seen with any effort to approach this from a rationale and productive manner. Thank you for your work on this and I hope that the future discourse on this will be approached with this level of integrity.

  3. The statues represent American war veterans…regardless of the side they fought on. Get a life… as some of have fought & suffered for our country and respect those who have in the past. I agree with getting ride of the “flag” as it was used to represent racial hatred both during the war and for many years afterwards (even until today?). But leave our veterans alone. I know what it feels like to be a disrespected American Veteran in an unpopular war.

  4. Landrieu is a charlatan, and this is just ignorance masquerading as compassion. It’s moral preening at its most base. Another point to consider, Owen, is that western tradition has consistently differentiated between politicians (who make policy) and military leaders (who are merely instruments of that policy). There are exceptions of course, but it fits Lee very well, especially in light of your observations regarding his personal views. Why in the world Lee should be first on anyone’s list for removal is beyond me.

  5. One of the things that made the US Civil War unique and remarkable was the reconciliation between north and south following the war, the South was allowed to build monuments to its leaders, honor its dead, the north even named forts and weapon systems after Southern leaders, as well as rehabilitating the former Confederates and appointing them to offices and allowing them full citizenship. The symbols were accepted after the carnage for reasons I doubt many today understand (including our Mayor). Compare that history of reconciliation to the Russian Civil War or any other civil war. I’ll take what we did over what the Reds did to the Whites, the Nationalist to the Republicans in Spain, etc . For 120 years the flag was no problem, today it is, not because of anything the flag now represents but simple historic revisionism and ignorance along with a progressive agenda. If our Mayor was honest he would recognize the great achievement of reconciliation our ancestors achieved, and not stoop to political pandering. Our ancestors accomplished something great and unique after the terrible carnage, sadly many do not recognize that today.

  6. Spot on, again. I am totally against the removal of these monuments. I do however believe that Mitch Landrieu thinks that there is something in this for New Orleans beyond symbolism or racial harmony. I hope so anyway. I believe that Landrieu is a reasonable man, and is able to judge these men correctly- in the context of their situation and the 19th century. PGT Beauregard was one of us (a New Orleanian), and he even built the streetcar line down to Carrollton.

  7. Among other things, Landrieu ignores the duly constituted historic commissions and professional historians the city employs, They may not have jurisdiction, but they do have expertise in evaluating historical materials. I don’t see how a Commissioner can now tell a property owner not to disturb the gingerbread on his house that is not as old or important as the Doyle statue of Lee. They should all resign in protest.

  8. You may ask what purpose does it serve to remove Robert E. Lee’s statue? For me, it really tells us who we are as a society in the year 2015.

    There are over 3000 comments in the Times-Picayune plus hundreds of articles on the subject in less than a week. To me, this is about a reconciliation that never got real closure.

    • Moses,

      I’m not seeing a great deal of support for razing these monuments. I think most of the discussion has been from people who are outraged by the suggestion that we scrap our Civil War memorials. In other words, Landrieu brought on the controversy — he didn’t reveal an unhealed wound, he created one himself.

      • I disagree that Mayor Landrieu created a wound himself. I have driven past and ridden past these monuments since I was a boy of about 11 years old, and I still remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I saw them. I cheered when finally there was even a conversation to remove the statues of these men (Beauregard & Lee) who through their own words said they firmly believed in the institution of slavery. It was not just loyalty to his state of Louisiana (Beauregard) and the state of Virginia (Lee). Lee had three options – Fight for the Union, Fight for the Confederacy, or resign his command. He chose to fight for the Confederacy (Virginia as you say) and the South attacked first at Fort Sumpter. They seceded as soon as Lincoln was elected and before he even took office.

        You’re assuming no one wants to see the monuments come down, but that is not true. Here, I am with an unhealed wound, saying I think they should be removed from public property. I actually had the same conversation with my 15-year-old son, about 5 years ago regarding the statue of Beauregard. It might be a hypothetical to you, but to me it is reality.

        I am all for someone having the freedom of speech and flying their flag in their yard, or building a memorial on their own property, but not on public land that my taxes subsidize. Move them to probably the finest Civil War museum in the U.S. which just so happens to be in New Orleans.

        “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things. How long their servitude may be necessary is known and ordered by a merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy.”
        -Robert E. Lee

        “If slavery be a sin, it is not yours. It does not rest on your action for its origin, on your consent for its existence. It is a common law right to property in the service of man; its origin was Divine decree.”
        ~Jefferson Davis

        “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
        ~Jefferson Davis

        • David,

          As I noted in my column, “the typical 1860s citizen viewed themselves as honor-bound to fight for their state.” Neither Lee nor Beauregard were in a position to simply sit out the war. That was not a third option. As a practical matter, in order to stay true to themselves they had to fight for their states. And they only did so after an army had been raised by the Union and armed conflict was all but inevitable. I think your attempt to spin this against Lee is just plain bad history.

          I grant that you want Civil War monuments removed, and that others feel the same way. However, it has been my impression that you are in a minority. I’ve heard from a wide spectrum of people on this, most of whom have very liberal political views, and an overwhelming majority do not approve of this. Even those sympathetic admit that Landrieu went into this knowing that he could not realistically succeed in doing it, raising questions as to his motives.

          I’d also like people to stop saying that all the monuments should be moved to the Civil War Museum. Given that you say that, it’s clear you’ve never been there or else completely forgot about its size. It is a fairly small museum that is already cramped with inventory. They cannot fit a bunch of statues in there. It’s not going to happen; there’s no space and the museum can’t afford to pay for it (especially after The Ogden tried to steal their building through the courts). There are no museums for these statues; they are public memorials and they’re either going to stay out or be mothballed. Those are the only options.

          I note that you have some quotes at the bottom of your comment. I’m saddened that you pulled Lee’s quote out of context from the 1856 letter to his wife. Prior to that quote, Lee said (in stark contrast to Jefferson Davis):

          “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”

          What Lee was going on to argue is that he thought slavery should endure until blacks were culturally prepared for emancipation. This was in contrast to Lincoln’s persistent view that all blacks should just be shipped back to Africa (which isn’t a great deal better, when you get right down to it). There were not exactly the most enlightened views being bandied about here, but Lee acknowledged that slavery was evil and it did need to end. He just had some very misguided views on how it should end (and in that regard he was in good company).

          These memorials represent a good opportunity for people to discuss the complex background of the Civil War. If some people simply regard Lee as a symbol of defense of slavery, that’s a time for education, not a time to yank his statue down.

          • Owen,

            I am curious as to this “wide spectrum of people on this, most of whom have very liberal political views, and an overwhelming majority do not approve of this.” A spectrum does not constitute a high amount of people, just a varied group of people.

            How many black people did you speak to, in a city that is majority black? Why don’t you put a poll on Uptown Messenger of how many people feel like the monuments should come down and how many people feel like they should remain?

            So far as my “spin” on history, I write history texts for national education providers. Your comment that the South seceded or fought “after an army had been raised by the Union and armed conflict was all but inevitable” is plain untrue. Before Lincoln took office, seven states had declared their secession from the Union. They did not actually declare independence, because in their opinion they were already sovereign states and were merely withdrawing from a compact made with other sovereign states. They established a new federal government, the Confederate States of America, on February 4, 1861. Lincoln didn’t amass an army UNTIL AFTER Fort Sumpter was attacked on April 12, 1861. Then Lincoln called for volunteers from every state.

            This war was fought simply over a $191,000,000 cotton empire which by today’s inflation is close to $1 billion. Slavery was the lynch pin of that fortune. Without relatively free labor they couldn’t make massive profits. They thought that since Europe needed their cotton exports they would intervene but they never did. To say now that they fought for the honor of their states ABOVE wealth and slavery is absolutely dishonest and a romantic notion of what our ancestors really fought about. Also you can learn about history instead of celebrating history. Having a 60-foot high Greek-inspired statue of a man who seceded from the Union and aided in hundreds of thousands of deaths is a bit much.

            I also notice you didn’t comment about Jefferson Davis’ comments about slavery. We do have a Jefferson Davis monument as well. As the President of a new nation (not state) called the Confederate States of America, was he fighting for the sovereign state of Kentucky or was he fighting for the massive 1800-acre cotton plantations owned by his family in Louisiana and Mississippi?

    • There was real closure for over 100 years, the path Landrieu has chosen will not bring this “reconciliation” he loves to speak about. Hard to imagine why some people 150 years later can’t accept the reconciliation that those who fought in and endured the war were able to achieve. This isn’t about reconciliation it is part of a cultural war.

  9. Here’s a 1947 audio recording of a 101 year old Confederate General telling why he joined the Confederate Army. States rights…..something we still struggle with today. (A few words may be offensive to some, so I’m warning you ahead of time.)http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/pgt-beauregard/speeches

    • I believe you meant during the Reconstruction period, which essentially ended in 1877. The Robert E. Lee statue was erected in 1884.

      • No. The Restoration was the return of the franchise, rights and power of the former Confederates following Reconstruction. The period saw the disenfranchisement of the former slaves and the rise of the cult of the Lost Cause.

  10. Bullshit. They didn’t fight for the United States. They fought for a treasonous group of rebellious people who were trying to break up the union.

    To draw an equivalence between the disrespect shown American veterans of Vietnam and the effort to remove monuments to traitors is fraud.

    • cowboy,

      They fought for their states, and at the time many if not most Americans had more loyalty to their respective state than to the federal government. It’s not the same today. Simply tarring every Confederate soldier as a “traitor” is just plain ignorant. Even Union leaders tended to give their opponents more credit than that.

      • “at the time many if not most Americans had more loyalty to their respective state than to the federal government” – you make this statement twice, once in the article and now again in the comments….it is clear when you reference ‘most Americans’ you are only referring to white americans. You may be an articulate individual and writer, but nonetheless your argument is filled with racist undertones.

        • He didn’t say anything remotely racist in that quote. He is referring Americans, of any color, and then more specifically to the “many if not most” Americans who were more loyal to their state than the federal government. It goes without saying that during the civil war era “most” Americans were in fact white, and that, by necessity, the “many if not most” state loyalists were also white. Making that statement, which is true, does not imply a racist motive. It states a fact. How would you suggest that someone make the same factually accurate point without it being “filled with racist overtones?” Based on the standard you used to judge the motives of the original poster, one would have to be one heck of a wordsmith to avoid being labeled a racist.

    • You betray historical ignorance. Virginia and the states of the upper south did not secede until Lincoln demanded compliance with moving troops through the state to attack the States that had seceded. That led to the political leaders of Virginia leaving the Union. Lee was offered the command of the Union forces but could not accept becoming an invader of this home. Like many who fought, he and they fought because their home was invaded by troops with ill intent. Who would not fight those who invaded their home and threaten harm to their families?

  11. Oh, I understand the reasons for the symbols being accepted all too well, jexni. They were accepted because the Union grew weary of trying to deal with the KKK and other insurrectionist types and abandoned the south to be run, for a century, by bigots of the first order who, as their first order of business, began rewriting history by building monuments galore to all the traitors who headed up their lost cause.

    THAT is how these symbols came to be. The Union won the shooting war, but the Confederates won the political war afterwards.

  12. Keep fighting the good fight Courreges. Your side’s been doing it since at least 1861, no reason to stop now. Gotta keep those symbols of how great it was when “the element” wasn’t taking over and our women could walk the streets safely without being raped by those burrhead Congolese, right?

    At least that’s the message y’all have been since for 150 years with all this confederate shit.

    • cowboyinbrla,

      Let me try what you’re doing, here:

      You’re a malodorous racist.

      Wow, biting ad hominem attacks are easy. Saves the trouble of constructing a cogent argument. I can see the appeal, really I can.

  13. The flag is a different problem because it was stolen by segregationists and even racist murderers in the fifties and sixties and is now forever tainted. Flying it in association with institutions of government authority surely is wrong. Monuments to heroic figures are another matter and are seldom objectionable.

  14. Jackie,

    I guess we’ll see if Landrieu reverses course on this, but personally I’ve been very unimpressed by him and believe this to be a shameless political ploy.

  15. Right now, ISIS is tearing down priceless historical sites and doing their best to erase the history of past Mesopotamian people (their own people) that they despise and see no connection to. Mao Zedong did this during the 1960s in China with the Cultural Revolution. In China you will find the flag of the Guomindang party (Taiwan) to be banned from view as well.

    The extremists are rampaging against America this week, looking to erase Alexander Hamilton from our money, erase and rewrite the entire history of the South (not just the flag), overthrow our marriage amendment that 78% of us democratically voted for, and of course force Section 8 housing into certain neighborhoods. Beauregard’s statue has been vandalized. Landrieu is talking about getting rid of Lee’s statue, and in Memphis the mayor is talking about digging up the bones of Forrest.

    Because the extremists hate the past and want to radically alter the country, they see no value in preserving the past, which ironically means they are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. I’d rather see Landrieu removed from office before his red guards touch our monuments to great American heroes like Marse Robert.

  16. Tip of my hat here; indeed, a well written opinion. And to it, I would like to add:

    “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

    Remembrance and exaltation are two different things. Remembrance holds us accountable for the mistakes of our ancestors. Exaltation condones those mistakes.

    We should remember the fallen, but we need not exalt the defeated at the continued expense of separating communities.

    • Bill F.,

      I don’t think a memorial to Lee somehow automatically exalts the Confederate cause, and I firmly believe that this push to remove all Confederate Civil War memorials is more divisive than the alternative of leaving them be. I also think we can make it clear that these are for remembrance only and shun any attempt to use them as a political truncheon.

  17. Owen, i can only dream of the day when i can be on point so eloquently as you are. So thank you. We have started a campaign to prevent the demolition of the statue. We invite you to join us and sign our petition.



  18. I was riding a St. Charles Avenue streetcar a couple of months back and there was a black gentleman with a group of black young men sitting close to me. As we went around Lee Circle he provided a history lesson on the past use of monument as the gathering spot for KKK rallies. I was not really surprised by that given the history of the KKK in the South.

    • A false history. Virtually all nineteenth century political rallies were at the statue of Henry Clay on Canal and Royal/St.Charles,

    • Jack,

      I’ve personally never read about any use of the memorial by the KKK, but I do know it has been manipulated from time to time (I recall there was a fracas there in the 70’s).

      That said, the memorial hasn’t been a constant source of tension, and I don’t know of anyone today who connects the statue of Lee, a leader who eschewed racism and violence while promoting reunification, with the KKK. Even Landrieu didn’t go that far.

  19. joesmith,

    No, there’s nothing in that statement that implies anything other than what is said. As a general rule, loyalties ran closer to states than to the federal government prior to the Civil War.

    I’ll certainly grant that it is difficult to know how black Americans felt since most of them were slaves. Some free blacks did enlist on both sides; in New Orleans, for example, roughly 1,500 free blacks joined the Louisiana Native Guard (part of the local militia) at the outset of the war. However, the number of black soldiers eventually employed by the Union Army was magnitudes higher, even after the Confederacy assembled black military units out of desperation in 1865.

    It is not controversial, however, to say that as a general sentiment people were still loyal to their states. The state tended to be regarded as the primary layer of government, predating the US. I fail to see how noting this is in any way racist.

  20. Thanks for putting this into words. It’s one thing to remove a symbol when its meaning has been expropriated (swastika, conf flag), but it’s another when we start passing judgment on historical figures without context. For instance, we like to remember Margaret Sanger as a great feminist birth control activist, not a eugenicist with questionable racial motives. And yet, she was both.

  21. He used this topic..the statues..to get everyone off of the NOPD’s back when the officer was shot and it came to light how bad off the NOPD really is. On Monday, 2 days after the officer died..Landrieu had no opinion on it…then on Wednesday he did. Why..because it was trending across the country and everyone forgot how bad the NOPD is running. It’s working..he got you to look the other way..and forget. Never was about the statues…and your right. He can’t touch them..but he sure got a lot of people to forget the real problem of this city..management of the NOPD.

  22. David,

    Obviously this can’t be resolved without a scientific survey, which neither of us have. The only data we really have is anecdotal and the unscientific, self-selected poll that the Times-Picayune did (and although that definitely supports my claim, it can also be taken with a grain of salt).

    Suffice to say that in my personal experience, it simply doesn’t appear as though there’s a broad base of support for removing the monument. The most vocal people seem to be opposed, and I never really heard this issue discussed until Landrieu brought it up. If any data comes to light that indicates I’m wrong, I’ll admit that — but I can only go on what I see.

    As for the rest, you’re mischaracterizing what I said. I did not say anything about the timeline relative to when “the South seceded or fought.” I was talking relative to two generals, Lee and Beauregard. I admit that I was in error with respect to Beauregard — I meant to refer only to Lee, and my point stands with respect to him. In any event, the truth is that war was basically inevitable when both of them joined the Confederacy for the reasons you described. I’m not sure exactly how you claim I’m distorting history, and misquoting me while brandishing your credentials as a historian is a bit disturbing. It also shows to me why you were so willing to selectively quote Lee.

    And I very strongly disagree with your statement that “[t]o say now that they fought for the honor of their states ABOVE wealth and slavery is absolutely dishonest and a romantic notion of what our ancestors really fought about.” I am saying that they were fighting for their respective states, and I think it reflects your historical ignorance to claim otherwise. Lee was not a supporter of either succession or slavery, but he decided to fight for his state anyway because that’s where loyalties lay at the time. The evidence shows that Beauregard was in the same boat as well. If you deny that, I say that it is you who are ignorant of history and I hope that ignorance is not reflected in our textbooks.

    I didn’t address Jefferson Davis because I do know that he was adamantly pro-slavery, but he was also the most crucial southern political figure of the Civil War and one who lived and died in New Orleans after the war — so it’s understandable that he would receive some recognition. Although less so than Lee, and without repudiating succession, he did publicly ask for southerners to be loyal to the Union before his death. I don’t think keeping his monument intact, perhaps with an explanatory plaque that repudiates his pro-slavery views, is as problematic as removing it. In any event, it’s Landrieu who chose to focus strongly on the Lee monument, which doesn’t carry the same baggage.

  23. The South started the war. They fought to preserve the institution of slavery. It was a treasonous action. It killed more Americans than every other war in our nations history. Are any of those fact incorrect?

    • I can agree with the fact about killing more Americans than other wars. With the first three, it’s extremely easy for an educated person to take a deeper look and find contradictory evidence, although toleration of each sides’ viewpoints was the general state of affairs before the leftists went overboard a week or two ago. As far as I can see, the media has recently displayed an incredible power to manipulate public opinion and sow social disorder and intolerance, which even the Supreme Court is prey to.

    • AScoutingLife,

      Yes. At the very least I think they’re simplistic and misleading.

      I believe that the South’s actions certainly precipitated the war, but by the same token one could argue that if the US had simply allowed the South to secede, no war would have resulted. Now, it was absolutely right that they didn’t allow the Union to be dissolved, because it was ultimately best for all concerned that the US remained intact. However, simply talking about who “started” it seems simplistic to me.

      Slavery was the chief issue leading to the Civil War, but at the same time it’s not true that the south’s soldiers were fighting to preserve slavery. Even those who wanted to eliminate slavery often fought for their state, with Lee and Beauregard being prime examples of that. Some even opposed succession.

      Finally, the Civil War did indeed lead to more deaths than any war in our nation’s history, which is why it stands to reason that there are Civil War memorials in and around New Orleans. I don’t see any good reason why those memorials should not remain.

      • My Lord are you disingenuous. “…one could argue that if the US had simply allowed the South to secede, no war would have resulted.” is possibly the most ridiculous statement I have ever read. Hey, If she had just granted him a divorce he wouldn’t have had to shoot her, right? One could argue many things but that does not make those arguments logically sound. The South started the war. They seceded. They fired the first shots. There is no disputing this.

        The South fought the war solely to preserve the institution of slavery. This is also a fact. It was not the “chief issue” it was the only issue. If a man chose to fight for the South he was fighting to preserve slavery. Whether or not every soldier personally supported slavery, the act of taking up arms for the Confederacy means that they were fighting to keep slavery legal.

        If someone takes up arms against his government that is the very definition of treason.

        I have no problem commemorating the Civil War. If you want to do so let’s tear down that statue of Robert E Lee and replace it with a statue of U.S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln. But that’s not what you want, you want memorials to the Confederate cause, not the Civil War.

        • AScoutingLife,

          It’s painfully obvious that you have an extremely jaundiced view of the Civil War, and a very limited one at that. A war memorial does not necessarily show support for any particular “cause;” it commemorates historical figures and the war dead.

          In any event, the South did not believe its actions were treasonous; it believed that states had the right to secede, and that belief was by definition another “issue” that the South was fighting for. I certainly disagree with that stance, but you cannot simply say that everyone fighting for the south was simply fighting to keep slavery legal. They were also fighting for the perceived right of their state to leave the union for any reason.

          There were also other issues between the north and south preceding the Civil War — high tariffs, southern nationalism, social and economic disparities between the north and south, industrialism, the south’s feelings of political marginalization in the federal system, etc. Slavery played a role in most of these, but again, it’s simplistic to say that no other catalyst for the Civil War exists or can even be discussed.

          • Look I know I’m not going to sway your opinion on this and that’s fine. However I will gladly point out the lies you are attempting to pass off as truth. The war memorials you re defending are overwhelmingly placed in the South and exclusively honor Confederate soldiers. So enough with the bullshit. You are honoring the Confederacy and not the war. You are honoring the Confederate soldiers, not all of the soldiers. Your memorials have an agenda so please stop denying this obvious truth.

            Whether or not the South believed it’s actions to be treasonous is irrelevant. Taking up arms against your country is the literal definition of treason. You can equivocate all day long but it does not matter. The act is the act and will be called what it is. Hell, the Nazis would tell you that they were only attempting to create a master race but the reality is that they were committing genocide. A criminal does not get to define the crime to suit their own purposes and what the Confederate states did was commit treason, a criminal act.

            Every other reason you give for the Confederacy’s treasonous act is simply an outgrowth of their dependency on slavery to maintain the stays quo. A much better writer than me provided extensive historical documentation on this point.


            You really should take an objective look at the cause you are celebrating. Instead you choose to rationalize away every proven fact about it’s failings. I don’t think that every southerner who participated in the cause was evil. I do think that those who still fight to honor the cause are ignorant.

  24. I really don’t understand why this columnist feels the need to respond to every comment and try to be “right.” Ideally it’s a discussion with lots of opinions, not a point for point rebuttal when you are not an expert on the subject. You are an opinion writer. And why defend these monuments? Let’s move on. There are more important and appropriate heroes in our history. And hey, I’ll contribute to the cost of relocating any of these statues, as will thousands of other people. Your fiscal arguments are silly. And sorry you haven’t been attuned to years of discussion about these monuments and street names–they have been going on. Recent events have finally helped build the momentum to do something about it. And it’s a false dichotomy to say that either they stay or they will be destroyed. That’s ridiculous. Landrieu represents the entire city, and there are a lot of people who are happy with the stand he is taking, and will support a way to make it happen. As you know, historic designation is more an honorific than a protection.

    • dj2500,

      I’m expected to engage comments in this forum. If you want a detached writer who passively sits around and doesn’t defend his views after writing a column, there are plenty of mediums that can provide you with that. This isn’t one of them.

      I’ll defend these monuments because to remove them would mar our landscape and malign our history. You say that there are more “important” figures, but I disagree for the reasons stated here. The Civil War was the most deadly war our nation has ever been engaged in. Excluding perhaps the American Revolution, it was the most pivotal event in our history.

      My fiscal arguments are not silly; just because *you* are willing to contribute to the cost of relocating every Civil War memorial in the city doesn’t mean that many other people are. That’s likely to be very expensive, and on top of that, you’d need to replace it with something else. Where is the money supposed to come from? Is somebody raising money for a new monument in New Orleans right now and is interested in any of these locations? The money isn’t going to appear out of thin air. If there were long-term discussions going on and “a lot of people who are happy” with Landrieu’s stance, then why has nobody done anything concrete about it?

      And you’re simply wrong that being on the National Register is “more an honorific than a protection,” at least when federal dollars are involved (and I assure you, they are).

  25. Slavery was the lesser of the succession issues. The main issue was the multiple taxes placed on the south by the union. If the Union was so set on abolishing slavery why did many Union states still allow slavery during the war. Further more, why did the Union’s Generals retain their slaves during the war. It is well documented that U.S. Grant retained his slaves during the war. How many Presidents Of the United State’s owned or families owned slaves? If the Presidents families owned the slaves the families would allow the use of slaves by these men. How many union statesmen or statesmen family’s follow these same practices. If Mr. Landrieu has set his course with his feel good committee is he ready to remove all Union Memorials of those who owned or used slaves. If he is ready to remove all culprits. Then Mr. Landrieu your initial removal of a any statue should be of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square. Lets play fare and remove any offenders of this practice before the Civil War and during this period. One should play their games from a level playing field and certainly have no double standards. I certainly don’t see an ” I play fair ” logo on Mr. Landrieu and or Mr. Landrieu’s committee. I strongly suggest that he and his committee read this. http://home.nas.com/lopresti/ps.htm One might see a city with no Memorials of Statesmen before our Civil War.

    • There have been calls on the left recently to erase Andrew Jackson from our currency. A single statue can be destroyed much easier. When viewed through 21st century extremist glasses, all of the great men from our history become monsters. The Civil War is not a magical boundary that people like Landrieu are afraid to pass. How many years will pass until they are condemning George Washington himself?

  26. I’m going to stand behind the first three, sorry. The South started the war by declaring their intention to secede and firing on Fort Sumter. I believe that is indisputable.

    Taking up arms against the federal government is treason as defined by the Constitution.

    As for their being causes other than slavery, that is simply not true. Here’s a lengthy list of Southern states and politicians freely admitting that slavery was the reason for secession: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

    • Every 20 years or so, states came close to seceding (Nullification Crisis, Federalists during the war of 1812, etc.) and it wasn’t until several years after the Civil War that the Supreme Court (Texas v. White) ruled that states cannot secede. You are viewing the 19th century through modern nation state glasses. The federal government was much weaker back then, and secession was seen as a possible option (of last resort), as these states were more like countries.

      It is treason if you view the secession as legally invalid. However, that is a might makes right situation. Certainly, the Yankees of the time did not charge the Rebels with treason, so, with all due respect, this seems to be 21st century zealotry creeping into the picture.

      Finally, we don’t need to speculate on the causes of secession. We know exactly why, because they IMMEDIATELY TOLD EVERYONE. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/declarationofcauses.html

      Your extremist article cherry picked all the parts from the declarations that talked about slavery to fit a race baiting agenda. Read the whole documents. They are a hodgepodge of states’ rights, economic complaints, constitutional violation, and issues related to slavery (for example, returning runaway slaves, upsetting the carefully crafted balance between free and slave states, etc.), but at this time few were seriously proposing a ban on slavery besides psychopaths like John Brown.

      • Texas vs. White did not alter the law; it merely upheld it. While there was indeed prior talk of secession that does not make it legal. There was never in the history of this country a legally valid recourse to secession. Might makes right has nothing to do with it. The Union prevailing only meant that the law of the land was upheld. So yes, treason.

        The “extremist” article merely quotes the words of the people you choose to honor openly stating that the cause for the Civil War was the Souths desire to continue slavery. Do you really believe that Southerners took up arms to protest tariffs?

        • The reasons for secession and the reasons for war are separate issues which should not be conflated. You seem to dispute the official declarations of the causes of Southern secession in favor of Mr. Cherry Picker. However, Southerners took up arms to defend their states. I don’t see how a valid case could be made otherwise except in some kind of Django Unchained alternate universe. The history is abundantly clear that these men were defending their homelands, with ideology playing almost no role (as opposed to the violence in Bleeding Kansas, which was directly over slavery). If the history wasn’t clear, basic logic like Occam’s Razor would lead us to this obvious truth of self-defense. It was Lincoln who sent Union troops into South Carolina, and it was Lincoln who raised 75,000 volunteer militiamen to attack the South after Fort Sumter, which of course caused even more states to secede. If you believe Lincoln was justified in his offensive due to secession being illegal at the time, so be it. That’s what the Northern history books tell us. I tell you that it is intellectually lazy to shoehorn the Civil War into a Good Guys vs. Bad Guys paradigm, and it is a tremendous disservice to a million of our bravest ancestors to distort their history and spit on their graves.

  27. It’s just an opinion but you can take down every visible sign of something but it really changes nothing until the attitude changes. Do people really think by removing some statues / flags or renaming a few schools & streets that all of a sudden racism no longer exists? What can’t be seen is almost impossible to change. It’s important to acknowledge that the oppression of any peoples is wrong but it is also important to ensure that the future is a better one.

    We need to stop saying that what happened 200+ years ago still defines us. Instead focus on solving the issues facing us today. The way to empower people is to give them equal access to things that help them succeed. If the strength of spirit that survived slavery & fought for civil rights could be channeled to move people forward, just think of the amazing country we could become.

  28. Only uneducated people such as the mayor , equate the civil war with slavery. The civil war began with the southern states , being tired of oppression by the goverment, standing up for their rights to govern themselves.
    Slavery was a side issue. Lincoln owned slaves, as well a black people owned slaves. In fact the first slave owner was himself black.

    If the mayor wants to think of himself as black, so be it. That doesn’t mean that history should be erased. What gives him the right?
    What would erasing history, taking down historical statues, renaming streets, solve?
    Just as he did in running for mayor, he’s doing now to run for governor.
    He knows he will have to have the black vote. He’s courting the black people . He will say and do anything to get the vote.

    He can not run on his merits, so he will run on people’s emotions.
    This is so very wrong, so very evil. A true politician.
    What he doesn’t understand is he has upset more people than he has appeased.

  29. So, if 100 years from now our culture universally accepts that abortion is the murder of an unborn baby, we will start tearing down any monuments to presidents that supported abortion like Obama? Mankind is wishy washy with respect to morality, and who knows what will be morally acceptable and unacceptable in the future.

    As an obviously ignorant and unqualified ”historian”, what qualifies you to make objective and absolute moral judgments? When did historians becomes arbiters of a functional ”word of god” that determines a once-and-for-all objective morality? The view that the Confederacy was some evil organization is just a subjective personal opinion, there is currently no objective scientific way to determine morals. Many believe Planned Parenthood is an evil organization as well, so who determines what is evil? Again, as a “historian”, what qualifies you to subject other people under your own functional ”word of god”, i.e. something that determines absolute morality?

  30. Removing statues and flags will NOT change the mindset of people, especially the racist ones. If this is successful, look for the more racist ones to demand the removal of all the names of great AA persons…MLK Blvd, Avery Alexander’s name from the hospital etc etc etc.
    Until the hearts of man can be changed, this will be an ongoing problem.

  31. Of course we want monuments from the Confederate leaders because THEY WERE FROM THE SOUTH!! They gave the south some pride of being where they are from NOT TO GLORIFY THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY. slavery was OVER when these monuments were erected so why would they be erected to support slavery when slavery was OVER. Also, another point that has not been made about most southerners is that the rich controlled everything in the south. The banks were owned by the plantation owners. Citizens were told that if the north were to have their way the banks would collapse and everyone would lose their money and savings. They were told that the whole southern economy would collapse if they did not have slaves to work in fields. I believe NOONE in here has glorified slavery in their comments. For anyone to make the assumption that that is what the status are about are out of touch with reality. Making assumptions on what anyone thinks without actually knowing is irresponsible and without merit

  32. He’s doing this for Financial gane only! I’m very mad ! If they take Lee down I’m moving out of Nola ! I will never spen a dime their again! It’s total Bs. He could care less about slavery or race! Ask him if his good friend owns the slave museum that they’re supposed to go in to. into?

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