Thursday, February 22, 2018
“Statue Debate” Is Over: New Orleans Mayor’s Powerful Speech Now Seen as Key Inflection Point

NEW ORLEANS, LA Aug. 17 (DPI) – Charlottesville was clearly a turning point in America’s debate over the future of Confederate statues – that discussion is now over, as municipalities across the South begin quietly removing them.

But before the violence this weekend in the central Virginia college town, the “statue debate” had raged for months and even years all over the American south. And nowhere was the hard feeling and potential for violent confrontation over Civil War monuments greater than in New Orleans.

The Crescent City, despite its easy-going and distinctive gumbo culture today, naturally had some vestiges of its Confederate past – most conspicuously four large statues, including that of Robert E. Lee in a central downtown circle. Most of the statues had been erected years after the Civil War, in the late 19th century, by white supremacist groups eager to promote and honor the so-called Lost Cause of the Confederacy.

But in May, city workers – their faces concealed for their personal safety, working in the middle of the night – removed Lee’s statue, an act that could have triggered violence that would have made Charlottesville’s look minor by comparison.

The peaceful outcome could have been different.  Thanks in large part to a moving and powerful speech by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu the week the statues were removed, the entire city seemed to pause, reflect – and move right past the issue.

That May speech – it is 20 minutes long, and worth listening to – evokes many of the best references to the American ideal, including Lincoln’s famous phrase “With Malice Toward None.” And Landrieu, well aware of the gravity of his message to his local and global audience, reminded listeners of the distinct and original place that New Orleans is, that it is positive and creative and inclusive. In some ways, it could have been a speech promoting tourism were it not so earnest, substantive – and important.

Today. with another round of local elections coming up in Southeast Louisiana, it’s notable that not a single candidate is re-visiting the issue of Confederate statues in public spaces.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted today that he was “sad” over the removal of “beautiful statues.”  But readers on and other news sites challenged Trump’s views, now seen as ill-informed and out of step, if not outright racist . The most popular comments today:

The “history” behind these statues in Charlottesville is more about 1920s “Lost Cause” politics and Jim Crow than actual Confederate figures or their history. But that’s a subtlety that many are overlooking, not just Trump. However, here’s the thing:what my local government decided to do with them is our own local issue…President Trump and out of town /out of state right-wing protesters can shut the hell up. Go manage your own communities and leave us alone. As for Trump, we Charlottesville residents are too angry for words right now. But let’s just say that he’s given us no reason to believe he stands for us in the slightest. I hope his term ends yesterday..
Lee never wanted statues of himself. He spoke to reconciliation during his last four years of life…as a teacher. The South co-opted his image without regard to what he wanted. That the president lacks the basic understanding of the difference between the roles of Washington and Lee in the history of the nation is appalling… trump never fails to disappoint.
His doubling down will be his downfall. I’m a descendant of the confederacy, but it isn’t hard for me to imagine the pain it causes for the victims of our ancestor’s injustices to have to accept monuments and flags “honoring” their tormentors in their own cities. The removal of these statues is actually a positive moment in American history, and perhaps history see this as the final defeat of the American “apartheid”movement. It’s a painful process, but we should celebrate this moment as a country.

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