In December 2015 I wrote a piece for the Atlantic following a decision in New Orleans to remove four monuments connected to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Numerous court hearings and appeals over the past two years threatened to undo this decision, but earlier this week the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the city the go ahead on removal. This includes the monument to the battle of Liberty Place.

The city is now accepting bids from contractors for the job of removing these monuments, which could begin in the next few weeks. Once again, this is a decision that must be left to the people of New Orleans, but removal will likely have a serious impact on deliberations in other cities.

The city of Louisville recently relocated one Confederate monument. The town of Rockville, Maryland plans on relocating its soldier monument. And as we all know Charlottesville’s city council recently voted to relocate its Lee monument.

The New Orleans decision, however, involves four sites, including three large monuments honoring Lee, Davis and Beauregard. It will represent the most dramatic transformation of a commemorative landscape devoted to the Confederacy.

It is unclear as to whether it will lead to new or renewed calls for removal in other cities and towns. Stay tuned, this wave has yet to crest.

[Image: White Citizens Council Meeting in New Orleans]

About Kevin Levin

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17 comments add yours

  1. I believe that this Opinion piece from the Times-Picayune is essential reading on this topic: http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2017/03/new_orleans_monuments_2.html

    I spent a lot of time in a city — Rome — that is covered with monuments. Whilst I did not know what each of the statues represented, after while, I walked past them so many times that they seemed like “old friends”. The association and fond memory that I had been impressed with, regarding those monuments had absolutely nothing to do with their original purpose and meaning. I often wonder if the seemingly emotional bond that sets up with objects become more of physical stamp in our personal timeline, rather than a more rational, representation of a historical narrative. Perhaps to some folks, trips to these statues are retracing the same steps made with long-gone family members, an “I remember when, moment.”

    • Thanks for the comment. I think this certainly captures part of the attraction/attachment that people experience regarding monuments and other commemorative sites.

    • That’s a valid argument. As Kevin and others have noted numerous times, over the decades monuments like become part of the community landscape, literally and figuratively. They can take on a meaning and significance all their own, separate from the event of person they nominally commemorate. For that reason, communities need to be cautious and deliberate in making decisions like this, and what works for New Orleans may not work for Charlottesville or Danville or Louisville.

      The heritage folks haven’t done very well in defending these monuments by winning hearts and minds, though; if there really was deep and widespread support in those communities for retaining those monuments, proposals to remove or relocate them would have gone nowhere. Public officials generally have a pretty good sense of where their constituents stand on various issues — if they don’t, they don’t stay in office for very long — and while most of them would probably not deal with issues like this (and the rancor that comes with them) at all, when questions like this are forced upon them they can usually be counted on to do the things that will be least damaging to themselves come the next election cycle. In most communities, the reality in 2017 is that wrapping oneself in the Confederate Battle Flag and singing “Dixie” at the top of one’s lungs simply doesn’t go over well with most voters.

      • The heritage folks haven’t done very well in defending these monuments by winning hearts and minds…

        They haven’t, which is disappointing given that there is an argument to be made along those lines.

        • Some heritage groups have been very successful in energizing and drawing support from people who are already sympathetic to their message. I don’t see much indication that they’ve actually changed many minds among those who started out skeptical or opposed to their positions, and have probably put off quite a few folks with their nasty and occasionally violent rhetoric.

          Lots of heat, little light.

            • It doesn’t help that some of their loudest voices turn out to be genuinely reprehensible characters. The heritage folks are driving themselves to distraction these days trying to get Wes Bellamy removed from office in Charlottesville, because of genuinely awful tweets he posted years ago, but those weren’t any more vulgar or disgusting than the prominent Flagger who publicly wished for the gang-rape of a federal judge who issued a decision he disagreed with. When will they make him persona non grata at their events?

            • I’m waiting for the Flaggers to boycott Virginia and then the United States. I am eagerly looking forward to the Flaggers boycotting the United States.

    • “I often wonder if the seemingly emotional bond that sets up with objects become more of physical stamp in our personal timeline, rather than a more rational, representation of a historical narrative.”

      My earlier reply seems to have disappeared into the ether, so instead of retyping it, I’ll simply say this — if large numbers of people in those communities really viewed those monuments that way, there wouldn’t be be the local political will to remove or relocate them in the first place.

      • Andy, my assistant often reminds me that “I need to get out more and diversify my play groups”. He asserts that I have developed a skewed view on this topic, due to the fact that I spend an inordinate — his term — amount of time on Civil War related sites. In his opinion, a vast majority of the population would score a lucky guess if they could point out Lee, otherwise, most — if any — opposition to removing the statues would relate to the human inclination to oppose change.

  2. I dont have a problem with locals removing statues that they dont want to see in their city. This does not remove what these people did during the war, but it doesn’t credit the deeds done after the war. Beauregard and Lee showed their ability to assimilate back into a post-war America. They did good American things after the war. Davis was a jerk, in my opinion. Davis deserves to go!

  3. What was it Shakespeare said about “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” The longer you discuss and debate monuments the more division you cause. Neither side persuades each other and most people simply don’t care. Monuments are part of the landscape and if they are noticed, are observed more as part of the scenery than for what they originally represented. Take them down and they won’t be missed, leave them up they won’t be noticed. It is only the argument anyone pays attention to. If you quickly removed the monuments you’d spoil the argument for the defenders and the opponents. Then they could go back to the internet and hector each other about some other issue. Truth be told it’s not the monuments they don’t like, it’s each other.

    • There is a certain amount of truth to this, but it is also unnecessarily dismissive. The current debate about Confederate monuments is about a lot of things, including monuments.

    • Quote: “If you quickly removed the monuments you’d spoil the argument for the defenders and the opponents”

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      That just leaves one small query: Who gets to play king and decide what gets taken down, if there would be no town meetings and no pesky arguments to gather a consensus?

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