Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

Taking Down the Confederacy

April 24, 2017 completely changed the lives of the people of New Orleans. This day started a movement around the world that is still continuing into 2018. The major of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, made the executive decision to take down the four Confederate monuments that stood in that city. Many people have their own views on why these monuments were taken down, those who oppose it and those who support it wholeheartedly. Mayor Landrieu did not realise that some of the people that he saw everyday felt negatively about the statues. He did not know that it was hard for them to pass by the Robert E. Lee monument or the P.G.T Beauregard statue everyday. Mayor Landrieu took down the four Confederate statues to honor those that the statues did not. But how did the action of taking down the statues pay tribute to the past, present, and future generations of the many minorities that make New Orleans what it is?

Mitch Landrieu has lived in New Orleans his whole life. He currently is the Mayor of New Orleans and has been since 2010. Before he became mayor, he was the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana from 2004-2010. Growing up, he never really thought about the color of people’s skin, he just thought of them as people. While his father, Moon Landrieu, was Mayor of New Orleans, he remembers him taking multiple students from all backgrounds to school in the morning and playing with everyone that lived on his block. During Moon Landrieu’s term as mayor, he was very confident on getting things done for the African-American community in New Orleans. In 2015, when they announced that New Orleans would be taking down the Confederate statues, many people gave him the same comments that his father got, some were saying that he is ruining the city like his father did. Mitch felt like he was doing the right thing by taking these statues down. (Landrieu, 2018)

The idea of taking the statues down wasn’t even Mitch Landrieu’s. In 2014, Mitch met with his old friend, Wynton Marsalis, who is a famous jazz musician. Wynton brought up the idea of the statues to Mitch and he didn’t know that people felt that way about the statues. Mitch felt like he had to put himself in the point of view of an African-American looking at one of those statues. In an interview with CBS News, Wynton said that he could remember as a high school student and passing the Robert E. Lee statue, he wanted that statue taken down. He has always wanted that statue taken down. (Scott, “Katie Couric…”)

In December of 2015, the city of New Orleans had finally decided to take down the four Confederate statues. The statues included the Battle of Liberty Place Monument, the Jefferson Davis Monument, General Beauregard Equestrian Statue, and Robert E. Lee Monument. The first statue to be removed was the Battle of Liberty Place Monument. This monument was dedicated in 1891 after the “uprising” in 1874. There are inscriptions on the monument that were added at later times. One of the inscriptions said, “United States troops took over our state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” (Wikipedia, “Battle of Liberty Place Monument) In 1974, an adjacent marker was added commemorating only the Metropolitan Police that died during the uprising. The monument has actually been removed before but for construction in the area and it was fought for it not to go back up, however it did. The monument would not be permanently removed until April 24, 2017, during the early hours of the morning. (Wikipedia, “Battle of Liberty Place Monument”)

The second monument to be removed was the Jefferson Davis Monument. It was dedicated in 1911 and the date of dedication has been said to correspond with the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America. This monument has been vandalised many times since about 2003, so people have wanted these monuments down for a long time. The idea of taking down these statues were not just thought of out of nowhere, many people have been thinking about if for decades. This monument was removed on May 11, 2017, during the early morning as well. (Wikipedia, “Jefferson Davis Monument”)

The third monument to be taken down was the General Beauregard Equestrian Monument. This monument was dedicated in 1915 to General Pierre Toutant Beauregard. The monument was removed on May 17, 2017, during the early morning as well. (Wikipedia, “General Beauregard Equestrian Monument”)

The last monument to be removed in New Orleans was the Robert E. Lee Monument. It was dedicated in 1884. Like the other monuments, the statue was known to be vandalised, especially during the time that it took to decide if New Orleans was going to take the monuments down. The monument was removed on May 19, 2017, during the day instead of the early hours of the morning like the other monuments. (Wikipedia, “Robert E. Lee Monument”)

The final decision on taking down the monuments came in December of 2015, however the monuments would not be removed until 2017. Directly after the decision was made to take them down, four different organizations that opposed the dismantling of the monuments filed lawsuits against the city of New Orleans. Many people opposed the idea of the monuments being taken down. Beth Mizell filed a bill in the Legislature seeking to block local governments in Louisiana from removing Confederate monuments and other commemorative statues without State permission; the bill did not get passed. The contractor that the city had hired, David Mahler, had backed out of his contract in January 2016 due to threats being targeted toward him, his family, and his employees. Once the city got another contracted, they kept the company a secret so they would not be threatened but that did not stop people from coming to the site early and filling the machines with sand so that they would not start. But also due to the threats, the city had to take down the monuments during the early mornings and have security with snipers surrounding them in case something happened. (Landrieu, 2018)

Those opposing ultimately believed that the statues represent an important part of the state’s identity and culture. They would show up to the monuments with pistols, automatic rifles, and carrying the Confederate flag. Writers and editors that are on this side say that it is starting a new controversial political movement where monuments like Mount Rushmore isn’t safe anymore (Dubenko, “Right and Left on Removal of Confederate Statues”).

Those supporting saw the monuments as an offensive celebration of the Confederacy and the system of slavery that they sought to preserve. They would vandalise the monuments, and they have for years, but when it came to protests, they only held up posters or banners with “Take ‘em down” written. This was present also in the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, on both sides. Writers and editors on this side say that the monuments have nothing to do with what happened, they are more about what the people who put them up think about the past (Dubenko, “Right and Left on Removal of Confederate Statues”). After New Orleans removed the statues, many cities followed suite all around North America (Bidgood, “Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down…”).

In the speech that Mayor Landrieu made about the taking down of the monuments, he explains that the act of doing this is not to discredit what happened in the past. It’s about learning from it and moving past it, knowing what people should honor and what they should not. He said, “As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgement that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of out history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause,” (Landrieu, “Address on Confederate Monuments.”). The taking down of the Confederate statues had nothing to do with forgetting the past, but it does have everything to do with remembering the present and what people can do to make the future better for the people.

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