Letter to the editor: New Orleans should not honor America’s enemies with memorials

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By Marc H. Morial

Nowhere else in the world but in the American South do a small and diminishing minority of citizens still celebrate and revere the military leaders who waged war and committed treason against the nation they claim to love. Most have moved on to an enlightened viewpoint of the New South – multicultural, diverse, dynamic and forward-thinking.

Nowhere else in the world could Owen Courrèges even attempt his absurd argument that New Orleans should honor an enemy of the United States because he died in the city. Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid in South Africa, died in Cape Town, but you will find no shrines to his memory there. New Orleans’ real heroes are Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt and numerous beloved cultural icons who are known and revered worldwide.

For too long, some have tolerated the lie of “The Lost Cause,” the sugarcoated illusion of the South’s bitter past. The leaders of the Confederacy were enemies of the United States, defending the most horrific system of brutalization and terrorism our nation has ever known.

If we call ourselves Americans, we have no business worshipping America’s enemies.  New Orleans is now in the 21st Century and so many of us have worked and fought to overcome the ugliness of our past.

Mr. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League. He served as Mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002.

41 thoughts on “Letter to the editor: New Orleans should not honor America’s enemies with memorials

  1. Morial is a bigger traitor to New Orleans than Robert E Lee ever was. Morial robbed the taxpayers blind through his corruption & graft. He now milks the federal taxpayer through his current position which feeds off federal grants. What a pathetic man w/ no sense of history.

  2. No one “worships” the memorials in question, as the former undistinguished (and somehow unindicted) mayor suggests. In New Orleans we have a very “enlightened viewpoint” on preservation of the historical nature, character and charm of this very unique city, including the decisions its leaders made at different times in its development to erect monuments and christen avenues with certain names. You cannot separate those actions now from the city’s past.
    As I recall, we do have statues of our musical legends, Fats Domino, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain and even Chris Owens (although we’ll have to rethink the latter, given her sultry choice of career) in Legends Park on Bourbon Street. And I believe there is another major park named after Louis himself, with a statue of its namesake. I don’t hear anyone suggesting these all be removed to a museum. Let’s leave the past alone, and focus on the bright future ahead for what Travel and Leisure just named the 2nd “Best” city in all of North America.

    • I wasn’t aware that Fats Domino, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain or Chris Owens were traitors to our country who fought to keep slavery alive. You seem to be conflating an attack on Civil War monuments as an attack on monuments in general. That “argument” completely misses the point of the discussion.

    • I don’t think anyone wants to “separate those actions now from the city’s past.” I think many want to separate them from the city’s future. A truly “enlightened viewpoint” would recognize that where some find history, character and charm, many others find an insult to their basic human and civil rights. Some parts of the past are simply not worthy of preservation, not out of lack of charm, character or history, but out of moral obligation. What kind of “bright future” arises out of high, public monuments to those who led the fight to preserve slavery?

        • The public gets to decide, through their elected, municipal officials and the process as prescribed by the governing municipal statute. The basis is as described in the statute. When prominent public fixtures such as these are found to be insulting to the basic human and civil rights of a large portion of the population, everyone should be supportive of their removal.

          • And some of us who favor leaving the statues alone are as much part of the body public as anyone else. The point being of course that is the mayor does not decide this on his own, for sure, no matter who claims that they’re insulted.

  3. And it is impressive that we reached such a unique and amicable reconciliation. Perhaps our former or present mayors think the model of the Spanish or Russian Civil Wars are more admirable? The reality is those that fought the war and suffered immensely reached a reconciliation swiftly in a most inspiring manner. Sadly, the perpetually butt hurt and political panderers of today are more concerned about an issue that was resolved over 100 years ago than facing the problems we have today. The history of reconciliation of our ancestors should be celebrated not the divisiveness of Landrieu and Morial.

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve never understood why we have monuments dedicated to traitors. The fact that these men were rebelling in order to enforce slavery should make it a no-brainer for anyone paying attention that these monuments need to come down. The excuse that “this is the way it’s always been” is an absurd defense. It’s never too late to fix a mistake.

    Is this the most pressing issue facing our city? Of course not. Owen Courrèges indicates that this is a waste of time for the city to be dealing with. As for me, I believe that our government officials, like everyone else, can multitask. That they can address the city’s current woes while also moving to rectify the city’s past mistakes. These concepts are not mutually exclusive.

    • If city officials can indeed “multitask,” then how about achieving some results with task number one, violent crime?

  5. Why does Morial reject the judgement of the United States that those long dead Confederates were not “America’s enemies”? He shouldn’t brag about his work and fight to overcome the ugliness of the past as he did nothing of the kind.

  6. The history of these rebel monuments does not stop in 1865. These monuments were conceived and constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the KKK was at its peak in America and when a group known as the White League used political power and violence to oppress non-whites. Learn history and understand our history, and then you’ll see why we cannot go forward until we correct the errors of these monuments honoring enemies of freedom and equal protection under law.

    I live in New Orleans and I work in New Orleans. I own property and I vote. On this matter of public monuments to confederate leaders, the current mayor and the former mayor speak for me.



    • If one has learned history and understands history then no doubt one has an appreciation of history of what would be lost for succeeding generations if any important historical object is essentially thrown away and lost.

  7. Mr. Morial, I understand your comments, but worry about erasing history rather than learning from it. You mention South Africa, and one of the most touching things one can do there is visit Robin’s Island. Rather than demolish it, the New South Africa has made it a tourist site, where tours are lead by the most remarkably graceful, forgiving, reconciling former-prisoners one can imagine. It is impossible to visit without a lump in your throat for the duration. Similarly, the Brandenburg Gate has been left standing in Germany as a reminder of Hilter’s gloriously evil, narcissistic plans. At least for Lee and Beauregard who repented of their involvement in the Civil War and denounced slavery, I would prefer the less expensive solution of educational plaques explaining the Civil War realistically to the far more expensive plan of diverting funds to relocate those structures.
    It seems far more genuine for the City’s government to address the present day ills that affront the African American population in New Orleans and to take responsibility for making their lives better, with all available funds, than to assume the right to apologize for dead men and pretend that relocating their statues will give us a “New New Orleans.” I want an Improved New Orleans for all its citizens.

  8. You are developing a pattern of releasing blatantly false statements about the Civil War. Nowhere else in the world considers the Confederates to be traitors instead of Americans. Even few Americans would have expressed this view until a couple weeks ago. Why? Because it isn’t validated by history. America was just an alliance of small countries, much like the European Union today. State means country. Each man was loyal to his own country, his state, just like Frenchmen are loyal to France. It is like saying if France and Germany fought today, the loser would be a traitor to Europe. Today we are one unified country with a strong central government, but that was hardly the case 150 years ago. When the United States became disunited, men defended their own states, including Lee, Davis, and Beauregard, usually in the specific army of their own state.

    The cause is irrelevant, and their reasons are the same as the infantry and cavalrymen. If China invades America one day to repossess it because we haven’t paid our debts back, I am going to defend America even if she is dead wrong, because it is our duty as Americans. Would you help the Chinese instead? Speaking of China, there are monuments and museums to Genghis Khan in China even though he invaded China! Why don’t you go tell the Chinese they need to tear them down? You know politics and propaganda well, but Civil War history and the “world” are far
    beyond your level of expertise. Stop spreading ignorance and falsehoods.

    Oh and by the way, stop threatening the history of our ancestors and demeaning them by calling them traitors and enemies of America. When is the last time you heard the British call Americans traitors over the Revolution? Let it go, Mayor McCheese. Everyone else did. It is what civilized people do. You are irresponsibly abusing your position to further divide us and increase hatred, which is probably the true purpose of the Urban League anyway.

  9. A spot less historical myopia might serve you well. Don’t get all you history from the internet is my first bit of advice. Look at primary sources, and not just those being spoon fed to you. If you do these things you may find that the issues involved extended far beyond slavery. Of course you will read this as me denying slavery was a factor. You are free to do this and live blissfully in your self imposed ignorance.

  10. So i guess we have to tear down Oak Alley , Nottaway and all of the beautiful plantation homes along the river since they stand as relics of the past that represent the achievement of a slave based economy. While we’re at it we could take down quite a few elegant, ostentatious homes along St.Charles Avenue that were built with the proceeds derived from a slave economy, some built with slave labor in deed, and stand as offensive reminders of that system.Heck, let,s not stop there. what about the paddle wheelers on our river that remind us of the glorious era of “King Cotton”. That ought to bring us closer to a more respectable and enlightened viewpoint of the “New South” ,Mr. Morial. I assume having your father’s name on the largest and most prominent building in this city besides the Superdome is not enough to placate your vengeance. And I wouldn’t classify slavery as the most horrific system of brutalization and terrorism our nation has ever known. The annihilation of Native Americans and their culture deserves that distinction. Keep your Racist, Divisive comments in DC where they are more popular these days.Better yet, keep them to yourself we don’t need them.

  11. How sad that in a city, whose economy is based on surrounding its guests with an authentic emersion in history, its citizens would be duped into the mayor’s dubious plan to destroy antique architecture and historic sculpture that has survived for decades and a storm or two, only to be forgotten and eventually tossed as scrap alongside a pile of stolen copper wiring. There are no suitable museums in the city to display works of art of such scale, and it is not like us to favor paying an admission to experience history in a museum as opposed to enjoying and learning from that which already surrounds us in this most classic Southern city…for now……….
    If I wanted to have to go to a museum to see history, I’d move to Houston. New Orleans should no more remove its architectural and sculptural links to the past, than it should redraw the streetmap of the city to erase traces of old plantation property lines. Both would come at great expense, and in the end would accomplish nothing. This would be an awful, foolish mistake.

  12. Morial might want to glance at how this is shaking out. Hardly is this “a minority” of people taking a stand against attempts to adjust history to suit the ignorance and political pandering of Landrieu and his sickening ilk.

    Morial should also remain aware that HE is descended from slave owners. So by his reasoning we should remove his name from public view in New Orleans. All those brass plaques on our city’s sidewalks blaring Morial’s name??? REMOVE THEM!! He’d never have been in office had he not descended from slave owners (by his reasoning).

    To City Council and Landrieu, BRING IT. Then watch your pathetic little careers continue to evaporate.

  13. The plantations and battlefields are “important historical objects.” Statues are just markers that can be taken down or moved. I say take these statues down and put them in a museum next to statues of Saddam Hussein and Karl Marx.
    What’s just as important as protecting “important historical objects” is that the history of those objects is correctly interpreted. The statue of Lee at Lee Circle, for instance, is not so much intended to honor Lee as an engineer and military leader, but more as a statement that white supremacy is the preferred culture of our city and that things would have been better had the South not lost the war. That’s the problem with these monuments. We need to change the message and we need to correct the message.



    • I gather from such a comment that the poster has no interest in the ultimate disposition or destination of the statues. It also seems to be the case that the mayor, in his initiative, does not have a plan to ensure their eventual preservation. It’s being stated that, for whatever reason, the fact that the objects in question are statues rather than something else, such as a plantation home, means that they lack any historical value, and thus, as the poster apparently feels, as one can gather from the tone of the comment, no serious interest in their preservation the poster apparently sees nothing wrong with such a position. As someone who enjoys history and also has taken pride in living in a city that is rich in history and has always prided itself on being rich in history I could hardly disagree more vehemently. It really does NOT matter whether Lee or the Confederacy or the white people of post-Reconstruction New Orleans were evil people or whether slavery or secession or the institution of Jim Crow laws were wrongful and terrible. What does matter is that the statue is an authentic period piece that reflects the feelings of the veterans of the Confederate army and the local population of the time, such as they were, for better or for worse. There could hardly be a more callous position to take, and especially in this city and as this city is approaching its tricentennial, than to state that it doesn’t matter whether an authentic piece, this authentic piece, of history is preserved. New Orleans has always sent the message, speaking of messages, that “history really matters here,” and most definitely, now more than ever, need to continue to send that message. As regards sending a message that the city does not condone the wrongful practices of slavery, secession, racial segregation or racial hatred or racial discrimination, yes, that can and should be sent, as well, but should NOT, and does not have to, involve the mindless destruction of an authentic piece of history. Once that piece of history is gone, it will be gone forever and lost for all future generations and at some point somewhere down the road, even if people can’t see this right now, everyone will deeply regret that.

    • First, I would be keeping in mind that the statues in question are part of the National Register of Historic Places and honor that. Second, the suggestion that the city place a notice on the property to the effect that it completely disavows any official endorsement of slavery, secession, racial segregation or racism and that the statue is meant only to be commemoration of the specific individual being depicted, given their importance in local or national history. Doing so would at least save the taxpayers funds, which would be an enormously good idea at this current time. The point has been made very effectively that moving the statues, even if there is some plan to ensure their ultimate preservation (something that federal law probably requires at this point — which means doing more than merely leaving them in some warehouse to gather dust) is going to cost millions.

      Please believe me in that I am very much not the politically conservative type — I have voted for Mitch and would like above all to see his tenure be a success for the city — but this proposal just seems so incredibly half-baked it astounds me and embarrasses me. Did he come up with this to try to distract people from scrutinizing his efforts thus far to deal with the issues that really are pressing right now, such as violent crime, infrastructure, cost of living, opportunities for residents to be able to earn a solid living and so on? I don’t want to make that accusation, but nonetheless it’s hard to avoid getting that impression. I had much hope when Mitch first came into office but I have to say that right now I am becoming very disappointed.

  14. Mr. Morial your analysis is very flawed. Let’s look at the example of the United Kingdom which is composed of the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Northern Ireland presently). Scotland fought many wars against the English and the Scots have statues of their defeated heroes, such as William Wallace, and you don’t hear England moaning and complaining about it.

    We have a unique and distinctive history in the South and to go full Maoist Cultural Revolution and start destroying everything is an insane path. If some people find offense at reminders of Southern history it is due to their ignorance and inability to act like adults and take responsibility for their own mental states instead of blaming inanimate objects for their failures. Slavery was certainly part of New Orleans history and there were many black slave owners in New Orleans along with the largest population of free blacks in the country at the time of the Civil War. Contemporary black folks should celebrate this history of diversity, struggle and strife as otherwise we wouldn’t have a black population in America and instead most blacks today would still be in Africa (or as Abe Lincoln planned to relocate all blacks to the jungles of South America).


    If “slavery” is the single reason you call for the removal of our historical monuments then George Washington and many of the other founding fathers have to be next on your hit list as they owned slaves too along with being rebellious traitors to their country of Great Britain. The Romans probably owned the most slaves in history so should we just carpet bomb Rome and destroy all traces of Roman history and their monuments?

    Mr. Morial your logic is flawed and you are acting as a race baiting political hack. George Orwell predicted exactly the coming of your ilk.

    “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

  15. the hysterical mob do not understand that by an act of Congress, these monuments are considered U.S. Veterans monuments and defacing or tearing them down are felonies!!! Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines who fought in the Civil war were made U.S. Veterans by an act of Congress in in 1957, U.S. Public Law 85-425, Sec 410, which was approved 23 May, 1958. This made all Confederate Veterans equal to U.S. Veterans.

  16. Yes, history really matters. Yes, it really DOES matter that the Confederacy and the White League of post-Reconstruction New Orleans were, essentially, evil organizations, and that the institutions of slavery and Jim Crow were the worst forms of evil ever inflicted upon this country. History is not morally neutral, the mere accumulation of discrete events. The history that is exalted by these monuments, the history that IS these monuments, is an insult to the human and civil rights of a large portion of the public. As such, they are an insult to us all.

    • If all of that is truly important, then how is anyone going to be served by this silly attempt to erase history? You’ve, perhaps unwittingly, underscored the many reasons to leave the statues alone so that everyone can have them around as reminders of where we’ve come from and how far we need to go.

  17. Quote: ” the suggestion that the city place a notice on the property to the effect that it completely disavows any official endorsement of slavery, secession, racial segregation or racism and that the statue is meant only to be commemoration of the specific individual being depicted, given their importance in local or national history.” You just don’t ‘get it’, do you? A few words on a plaque are hardly sufficient to expunge the evil sentiments expressed by these monuments, which are inherent to them. Given the dire history that is contained in these statues, the appalling history in which these “individuals” played their significant roles, and the equally appalling history of their erection, they should have been removed long ago, at any cost. What price can be placed on human freedom?

    • And let me please state that I do not for a minute look to dismiss the nature of slavery or civil war as being other than how terrible those things were, I am only saying that “appalling,””evil,” etc. being applied to statues and monuments (that private individuals formed an association to raise funds for and paid for the construction of which with their private funds) built to memorialize individuals I just do not see.

  18. The word ‘hyperbole” means an intentional exaggeration. While my words were intentional, they contained not a whiff of exaggeration. If you think they do, then you are in as much denial as those who erected these monuments in the first place.

  19. Okay, but by dismissing the powerful symbolism of these monuments you are, indeed, dismissing their intimate connection to the horrors they represent: the dire evils of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil war. If you can’t “see” that, then perhaps you are being willfully blind. It does not matter who paid for the erection of these monuments because they were erected, and remain, on public, not private, property. Since they rest on public property, it is very much a public issue whether or not they should continue to do so. On the other hand, who paid for them and the social circumstances giving rise to them is very much a part of the social evils they represent and the reasons why they should go.

  20. Removing the monuments from their present locations is not an attempt to “erase history”. History cannot be erased, and it is foolish to think it can. But that does not mean we cannot and should not pass moral judgement upon it. History is not static, like an insect captured in amber; tomorrow’s history is what we make it by our actions today. These statues are not mere “reminders” of the evils of the past or guides to a better future. To repeat myself, they are powerful, public symbols of the self-destructive struggle for white supremacy and the evils of racism. If we allow them to remain, we are proclaiming THIS is who we were, THIS is who we are, and THIS is what we aspire to for our future. We can, and should, do better.

    • As I believe others have already stated in the discussions in this media outlet, there has not yet been any museum or other venue who has announced that they will accept the statues as part of the inventory and, especially given how large that the statues are, it’s not likely that any local museum is going to be able to accept them and be able to display them (if indeed the statues are going to displayed for viewing anywhere after removal it would almost certainly have to be somewhere that’s an outdoor public location, i.e. a setting that no doubt at least some people, as in the contingent who are insisting on pushing ahead with this project, would probably be dissatisfied with). Moreover, the mayor has hardly said anything specific about the long term plans for the statues. Therefore, until I hear otherwise I will assume that there is no long term plan for the statues other than to destroy them or else store them away somewhere for an indefinite time where it’s likely that they would be forgotten and/or fall into a deteriorated condition. Which would most definitely have to be considered as an attempt at erasing history. And if we really do feel like we have to erase history in order to be able to proclaim something positive about “who we are” and so on, what does that really say about us?

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