In New Orleans, Louisiana, the last of four Confederate monuments slated to be removed was taken down on Friday, May 19. The Robert E. Lee Monument, located in the middle of Lee Circle in downtown New Orleans, was the last of four monuments Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council identified to be removed. The Liberty Place Monument, the Jefferson Davis Monument, and the P.G.T. Beauregard Monuments were the other three monuments removed in the past few weeks. In his speech, moments before Robert E Lee’s monument was removed from its pedestal, Mayor Landrieu gave himself a pat on the back at Gallier Hall, saying, “I knew taking down these monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like.”
The New Orleans City Council voted to remove the monuments in 2015, declaring them “public nuisances.” After winning a few court battles to determine whether the city owned the monuments and had the authority to take them down, the city began removing monuments in early April. The Liberty Place Monument was the first monument to be removed and was taken down in the middle of the night. The Jefferson Davis Monument was removed at night as well, as was the P.G.T. Beauregard Monument in City Park. The Robert E. Lee Monument in Lee Circle was the final monument to be removed. All of these monuments were removed with the help of masked workers wearing body armor, and it was later discovered they were also New Orleans Fire Fighters.
We’ve got to be honest that Mayor Landrieu was partially right when he called the monuments symbols of white supremacy. The City erected the Liberty Place Monument in 1891 to commemorate the Battle of Liberty Place and the insurrection of the Crescent City White League. The monument was moved once before to a less prominent location in the 1980s. I personally had never heard of the monument before it was taken down. The Jefferson Davis Monument was erected in 1911 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jefferson Davis’ inauguration as President of the Confederacy. I personally did not care whether this monument was removed, as Jefferson Davis was not from New Orleans, he was from Biloxi, Mississippi.
The P.G.T. Beauregard monument was erected in 1913 and was located at the entrance to City Park. The city was wrong to remove the Beauregard Memorial, as Beauregard was not just a Confederate General, but also a New Orleans Native before and after the war. The monument is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anyone who cared to look at the legacy and history of P.G.T. Beauregard would know that he was one of the earliest supporters in the South of full civil rights for former slaves. The same can be said about Robert E. Lee. Lee supported civil rights for freed slaves. He was a popular icon not only in the South, but in the North as well, because he was a symbol for reconciliation between the North and South after the Civil War.
In a letter to his wife a few years prior to the Civil War, Lee seems to express opposition slavery:
“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former.”
— Robert E. Lee, to Mary Anna Lee, December 27, 1856
The main group behind the removal of these monuments, Take ‘Em Down NOLA, is now calling for street names to be changed and for more monuments to be removed. The group is calling for the removal of Andrew Jackson’s monument in Jackson Square. Now, I’m no fan of Andrew Jackson, but that doesn’t mean we should take his statue down. His statue is a distinct part of the French Quarter and the city. Jackson led Louisiana Natives and troops to defeat the British in the battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. We cannot judge historical figures based on today’s moral standards (which aren’t really that much better). If we did, we’d have to take down almost every monument in the country because they either supported slavery or owned slaves. The groups behind this movement are history revisionists, attempting to rewrite history to meet their agenda. But no matter how hard people like Mitch Landrieu and Take ‘Em Down NOLA try, history cannot be changed.
The only reason Mayor Landrieu had these monuments removed is because he has failed as a leader for New Orleans. He failed to significantly address problems the city has had to deal with for years. New Orleans continues to be one of the murder capitals of the United States. The economy of New Orleans has been in bad shape for a few years. The roads are horrible and there are pot holes literally everywhere in New Orleans. In 2016, more people moved out of New Orleans than moved into the city according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some parts of New Orleans, such as New Orleans East, are now considering seceding from Orleans Parish because they feel the problems they are dealing with are consistently being ignored by the city.
By removing these monuments, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has opened a Pandora’s box. There are countless schools, streets, and other monuments in New Orleans named after people some in society are offended by. The only reason the monuments became an issue is because the Mayor made them an issue. Mitch Landrieu made it his mission to remove these monuments and make this his legacy because the past eight years of his tenure as Mayor have largely been a failure.