This was the first of four Civil War monuments that mayor Mitch Landrieu wants gone and the "most offensive" (his words) of the four. The city council actually voted back in 1993 to declare the statue a "nuisance" and get rid of it, but they were persuaded to let it be re-erected in a less prominent place. The monument was erected in 1891 to honor an 1874 rebellion by the White League against the post-Civil War government of the state, and it glories in the triumph of Jim Crow:
McEnery and Penn having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored). United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.So, yeah, pretty offensive, and I doubt there would have been much uproar about just removing this one.
I think Civil War monuments in general present a hard problem for an America in which issues of race and opposition to national government are still so powerful. Most of them were set up by Jim Crow governments as a way of connecting their own policies with the dead heroes of the war, so in that sense they were always intended to be political documents. I think the uproar that surrounds them shows that they still are; the removal of the average non-Civil War monument hardly merits a yawn. Some of the outcry against the Louisiana monument removals has taken the tone that this is just our history, worthy or remembrance right or wrong. New Orleans businessman Frank Stewart:
I ask you, Mitch, should the Pyramids in Egypt be destroyed since they were built entirely from slave labor? . . . The Colosseum was built by slaves, who lived horrible lives under Roman oppression, but it still stands today and we learn so much from seeing it.Though this argument is correct, I don't think it really captures the situation with Confederate memorials. When the issues are live and the wounds raw, sometimes historical remembrance has to yield.
I have always opposed the removal of monuments to the ordinary soldiers of the Confederacy, since so many of them just served because their communities called on them. Hundreds of thousands of them died, thousands were maimed, and if their home counties and states want to honor their memory that seems appropriate to me. I agree with Mr. Stewart that the Civil War is one of the central events in our history, and that to erase it entirely from our public spaces would be an Orwellian act. Monuments to soldiers is one way, to me one of the less potentially offensive ways, to keep that connection to the past. But that doesn't mean we should keep every memorial.
The other three monuments that New Orleans has slated for removal are statues of confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and president Jefferson Davis. Personally I have never understood why there was ever a monument in New Orleans to Lee, who never gave a damn about New Orleans or anywhere else except Virginia. He thought secession was a terrible idea and only joined the cause when his own home state seceded. He spent the whole war trying to block the transfer of men or resources from the east, where the Confederacy was doing pretty well, to the west where it was failing. So removal would at least get the history closer to right. Jefferson Davis has pretty much come to stand for the Confederacy and its politics, so I can see why that has to go.
Plus I'm just the sort of traditionalist who likes public squares with old elm trees and statues of generals on horseback. If this monument goes, what are we going to get in its place? Some abstract monstrosity?
So if it were up to me I would try to find some way to keep Beauregard, if not in New Orleans then in some other part of the state. But I believe in democracy more than I believe in most other things, so if that is what the citizens of New Orleans have decided it is really their business and not mine.