New Orleans Should Look to Richmond

The city of New Orleans is offering the rest of the country a lesson on how not to deal with Confederate iconography in public spaces. In advance of a decision that could come as soon as early as next week, the city is holding a series of public discussions. Mistrust and questions about the motivation behind the push to remove four monuments to Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Liberty Place, have done little to foster a consensus view or even a modicum of appreciation for opposing positions.

There is a better way, but it involves resisting the temptation to simply remove what is deemed to be offensive as if that alone will signal some sort of reconciliation with the past and present. What is needed is broad community support for public discussions and projects that take place over the long term.

New Orleans and other communities should be looking to the city of Richmond for guidance. In the former capital of the Confederacy, that includes Monument Avenue, there is a reason why we have not heard widespread calls to remove the famous monuments to Lee, Jackson, and Davis. As New Orleans debates monuments, the residents of Richmond are engaged in a discussion about the best way to preserve and remember the city’s history as a major slave trading center. These types of discussions are not unusual in Richmond and likely have gone far in bringing people together and minimizing the kinds of tensions and divisions that are all too common in communities dealing with how to remember and commemorate this history.

A strong push to add monuments – from Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue to the Virginia Civil Rights monument on the capitol grounds – offers residents and visitors a rich commemorative landscape on which to engage one another and track their collective memory. The National Park Service, Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, Virginia Historical Society, American Civil War Museum and a host of smaller institutions peppered the now concluded Civil War sesquicentennial with a wide range of educational programs that catered to a broad swath of the local population.

It’s certainly not perfect and not everyone is satisfied, but Richmond has probably done more than anyone else in pointing the way forward.

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4 comments… add one
  • Marian Latimer Dec 18, 2015 @ 22:14

    Must everything be candy coated? Who are we protecting? If I find a Michelangelo piece offensive to my gender, age, whatever, is the Vatican required to remove it? Isn’t a monument a work of art in some instances? I do find some of this offensive. The flag does disturb me, no question, but it seems to me the old saying about those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it might be prudent here.

    I don’t see Poland tearing down concentration camps. They know that there is a good reason for that. It might not be a good comparison and I apologize if it offends people, but there are surely bigger problems in NOLA.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 19, 2015 @ 3:44

      Isn’t a monument a work of art in some instances?

      You are free to make that point in our free marketplace of ideas. In this case, it is your privilege to do so.

      The flag does disturb me, no question, but it seems to me the old saying about those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it might be prudent here.

      It seems to me that this is exactly what the people who want these monuments removed are doing. They are looking at history. They hope not to repeat it.

      …but there are surely bigger problems in NOLA.

      As there were when these monuments were first erected.

      • Marian Latimer Dec 20, 2015 @ 15:45

        I’m actually on your side, but I guess I was a little too overwhelmed when I typed this. I had just finished giving a statement to the police in my apartment after calling for a welfare check on the woman directly above me because it was bitterly cold and windy down here and her sliding glass door and bedroom window had been open for weeks, but the weather hadn’t been so bad, at least not for me. They found her deceased and she had been for a few weeks so I was trying to distract myself from guilt and sadness, even though I didn’t know her. I’m just disturbed when the government anywhere takes down statues and monuments. The flag is one thing. I have been given to understand as of yesterday that the statues will be moved. I had visions (in my former Detroiter’s mind, where scrapping is a full contact sport) they might be ground up or melted down. I also read a number of books and articles this summer about the seizure and destruction of art by the Nazis in WWII and that is always going to be disturbing. Some of that art was deemed offensive. It bothers me every time I pass Lee and Jackson Streets here in the downtown.

        I apologize if I offended or was unclear. Too many art classes in college, I guess…

        • Kevin Levin Dec 20, 2015 @ 15:58

          No offense taken. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

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