As the City Council voted last week begin discussing the removal of four Confederate statues throughout the city, they also outlined the legal process by which it will take place, and many Council members shared their views on the issue.
On June 26, Mayor Mitch Landrieu wrote to the council requesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Circle, the Jefferson Davis statue on Jefferson Davis Parkway, the P.G.T. Beauregard Equestrian statue on Esplanade Avenue and the Battle of Liberty Place Monument on Iberville Street.
The motion passed by the council at the meeting held Thursday, in response, states that the city code allows for Council to follow proper legislation to remove structures such as statues, plaques, monument and others from public property “deemed a ‘nuisance’ in that, among other things, the item honors, praises, or fosters, ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”
With the motion passed, the Council is required by the City Code to hold public hearings for recommendations on the removal of the statues from the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Chief Administrative Officer, the Superintendent of Police and Director of the Department of Property Management, the City attorney, and the Human Relations Commission. The motion added the Vieux Carre’ Commission to the entities stated in Landrieu’s initial request, to be a part of the public hearings.
Mayor Landrieu also proposed to change the name of Jefferson Davis Parkway.
“I’m also proposing to rename Jeff Davis Parkway the Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway,” Landrieu said.
As of Monday morning, there is already a petition with 1,303 signatures in favor of the name change.
On the other hand, there is also a Facebook page called “Leave New Orleans Statues Be” that had more than 12,000 supporters Monday morning.
Landrieu said that the city will begin a 60-day period for discussions and public hearings about the statues.
Landrieu: ‘Symbols should inspire and include’
Landrieu said that he hopes the discussions will be in a “civil and thoughtful” manner and said that he believes the statues do not represent the people of New Orleans.
“To maintain these symbols as we move towards our future seems to blind our progress and does not reflect who we truly are or who we want to be.”
“I ask you, how can we expect to inspire a nation when our most prominent public spaces are dedicated to the reverence of those who fight for bondage and supremacy of our fellow Americans? These ideals have never really belonged in a city as great as New Orleans,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu went on to say that the statues do not represent what he believes the city stands for.
“These monuments were built to reinforce the false valor of a war that was fought over slavery. But our city has always been a city of diversity and inclusion,” Landrieu said.
“At our best, we are a place with diversity is our strength, a place where all are welcome. A place where symbols should inspire and include, not divide. A place where we celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not death not war, not slavery,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu also said that white supremacy was the “order of the day” when the statues were erected, but much has changed since then.
“Many groups and individuals did not have a voice, when these monuments were first erected, now they do and they should be heard,” Landrieu said.
He also said the removal of the statues is not about the city forgetting or looking away from history, rather it is about “reckoning with our past.”
“We must never forget our history, for those who do will be condemned to repeat it. … Therefore, we should place these statues in proper place and in proper context. Simply stated remembrance yes, reverence, no,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu mentioned that Robert E. Lee was the Confederate general for the army of North Virginia and had little or no connection to the city.
“The question is whether this prominent circle is the appropriate place to commemorate and learn about the general and his place in history and whether this space should be reserved for something that represents the fullness of who we are and who we want to be,” he said.
Landrieu asked for those who do not oppose the removal of the statues to imagine a 10-year-old African American child learning about history.
“What might she think when she asks her dad to explain who he is and why he is there commemorating the ‘cult of a Lost Cause’ and how her city still maintains a public space specifically designed to glorify and celebrate white supremacy?”
“I think it would be better if this young American could see something that could make her feel proud of her city and inspire her to her greatness,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu said that process moving forward begins with the people of New Orleans and the City Council.
“The moral arc of history bends, as it usually does, towards justice, but it does not bend on its own. That my friends, is left to us, and my plea to you today is to let’s start building it together towards our shared future.”
Guidry: ‘A distinction that must be drawn’
After about an hour of hearing public comment from both supporters and opponents, the Council members spoke their opinions.
Council member Susan Guidry said that she looks forward to the forthcoming process in reviewing the statues.
“I do feel there is a distinction that must be drawn between something that is educational, something that is history, and something that is honored. And I think we need to draw that distinction now,” Guidry said.
Council member Jared Brossett mentioned the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 300th anniversary of the city, and asked what symbols the city should reflect in a time of rebuilding.
“With an eye to the future it is time that we look to symbols of unity and advancement, not division and stagnation,” he said.
Brossett said that he believes the symbols the city presents should reflect diversity.
“We are and are going to continue to be a city where black, white, Hispanic, Asian, straight, and gay, Uptown and downtown, East bank and West bank live side by side,” Brosett said.
“Our monuments need to reflect that; what we are and what we want to be. Not what this city has been at its worst.”
Brossett said that he understands this process with not fix the city’s flaws, but it is a move in the right direction.
“I am not under the delusion that that replacing a statue or renaming a circle will instantaneously create harmony and equality, but today it is a meaningful step,” Brossett said.
Council member Latoya Cantrell said that she hopes this process will be smoother than the last process that took place around the Battle of Liberty Place monument.
According to reports, the statue was re-erected on Iberville Street in 1993, after it was removed from its original place on Canal Street in 1989. David Duke, former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard, led a movement for the rededication of the statue to its present site.
“It is really my hope that this process that we are initiating today can be seen as unifying and not as divisive as it was in 1993,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell said she is in full support of the process.
“I know that it’s a step in the right direction as all of our public spaces, all of our public spaces, should reflect the values of our people,” Cantrell said.
Council member Jason Williams said that he could relate to the feelings others have in taking offense to the statues. Williams explained that he is a descendant of his family who grew out of Bogalusa where much Klan activity took place.
“I know that feeling,” Williams said. “Whether your forefathers were on the business end of a whip or the handle of that whip, all of this is our history.”
Williams said that the issue is about whether or not “this small piece of history truly deserves continued commemoration.”
Williams said that the public hearings that will be held are going to discuss a topic that is ignored but still prevalent in New Orleans.
“We don’t like to talk about race, and our failure to talk about it creates a host of other ills, day in and day out in this city,” Williams said.
“So I’m glad we’re talking about symbols but there is so much more we have to talk about in terms of inclusion and opportunity and education and I’m so looking forward to this dialogue continuing from all sides.”
Williams mentioned that the Battle of Liberty Place monument is not up for interpretation, as the inscription explains why it was erected.
“The inscription was dedicated to the terrorism to destroy Reconstruction, and it is the only monument in this country that celebrates the killing of police officers.”
Williams said that earlier in the meeting NOPD Officer Daryle Holloway was recognized for his service to the city, after his death last month when he was shot when transporting suspect, Travis Boys, in a police vehicle. Williams said the statue does the opposite of celebrating lives.
“We celebrated Daryle Holloway here today, who gave his life. But we have a monument today that we’re having a debate about that celebrates the killing of police officers to over throw a legal government by the white league, other wise known as the Klu Klux Klan,” Williams said.
Williams also mentioned how Robert E. Lee was “a genius of engineering skills” and a great military mind, but his statue does not celebrate that.
“The statue that is a high statue in our city does not show Robert E. Lee engineering. It has him in his confederate uniform, and so that’s what it’s celebrating,” Williams said.
Williams explained that he takes the position of the statues similar to his 9-year-old son. Williams said that he was trying to explain to his son when he asked him who Robert E. Lee was and why his statue was in Lee Circle.
“He said, ‘Well dad which side was he on?’ and I said, ‘He was on the losing side son.’
“And he couldn’t understand because we are all Americans of these United States and that side was fighting to destroy that union.”
“And so my son kept saying, ‘But I thought we won’ and I had to explain to him that we did but, not all the way,” Williams said.