By: Pat Austincen
SHREVEPORT – I wrote in this space a few weeks ago about the controversy surrounding the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans. To recap briefly, Mayor Mitch Landrieu (brother of “Katrina Mary” Landrieu) has organized the removal of monuments commemorating P.G.T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Liberty Monument. The Times-Picayune has photos and descriptions of each monument here. In the place of the Jefferson Davis monument, Mayor Landrieu would also like to rename Jefferson Davis Parkway in honor of a retired Xavier University president.
The City Council voted 6-1 in support of the monument removal despite public outcry from a majority of the NOLA citizens and local preservationists. Immediately after the Council’s vote, a federal lawsuit was filed to prevent removal despite the fact that Mayor Landrieu already had contractors in place to begin removal immediately.
So where are we today? The case is garnering national attention and has been covered by The New York Times, the New York Post, and The Atlantic as well as attracting the attention of bloggers throughout the country.
Last week preservationists made their case in court:
During the two hour and 30-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier heard arguments after several plaintiffs, including the Monumental Task Force, went to court to block the city’s plan to remove four Confederate monuments.
Preservationists are looking for an injunction, stopping the city from removing the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.T.G. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and the Liberty Place monument, which city attorneys called “monuments to white supremacy” during the hearing.
“It looked to me like the city was on stronger ground,” said Donald “Chick” Foret, WWL-TV legal analyst. “The preservationists are on very weak ground. They don’t have any law, they don’t have any evidence. The judge was searching trying to find some jurisdiction. To get into this building, you’ve got to have federal jurisdiction, some federal law that applies, and the judge said he just didn’t see it.”
If the judge does in fact toss the lawsuit, the only recourse preservationists will have will be in state court, an avenue they will certainly pursue. Meanwhile, Landrieu’s crews are out taking measurements and preparing to go ahead with removal once the injunction preventing that is lifted.
Landrieu will have to find a new company to do the removal, however, as the first crew he hired has walked off the job after having received death threats.
Yesterday, a small group of protestors was at the Beauregard statue making their case; photographers and tourists are snapping photos of the monuments in their rightful setting before they are removed.
My question is this: where does this stop? On a national level, where does this stop? If the case is, as the city attorney says, that these are “monuments to white supremacy,” are the old plantations next?
I’m really trying to see both sides of this but as a student of history I just can’t see it in this case; I find it extremely difficult to believe that someone walked by the statue of Beauregard one day and said, “Damn, I’m really offended by that.” Someone, at some point, decided we should all be offended and so here we are.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the monument removal, again citing the white supremacy argument. The SPLC is an organization that preaches tolerance, something they seem to be short on in this case.
Perhaps we need these statues to remember what happens to a country when differing opinions and perceptions tear us apart.
Perhaps we all need to practice a little tolerance.
It’s always important to follow the money. Landrieu has said that the city of NOLA will not be paying for the removal, that this won’t cost the city one dime, however, the identity of his benefactor is a secret. Who is paying for this?
An anonymous donor has agreed to foot the bill for the removal of four Confederate-related statues, the city announced in a letter this week to the New Orleans City Council.
It will cost an estimated $144,000 to remove and transport the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, as well as a monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, according to the letter. The donor agreed to pay for the entire operation.
The slippery-slope aspect of the whole operation concerns me. Just because some aspects of our history are ugly and unpleasant, we can’t erase them. We are to learn from them; we are to honor the sacrifices of our ancestors whatever they were, and we are to always remember. If we sanitize and attempt to erase history we are greatly diminishing our ability to learn from it.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.