Each week, historian Sean Michael Chick will highlight some of the country's unsung heroes during the Civil War era who could serve as positive replacements following the takedown of New Orleans' Confederate monuments. Keep up to date here.
In the midst of the public fight over the removal of the Confederate monuments in New Orleans, relatively little was asked about what would replace Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee. On May 19th, just before Lee came down, Mayor Mitch Landrieu answered that question. The answer was underwhelming.
Beauregard will be replaced by something agreed upon by City Park and the City of New Orleans. That has yet to be determined. Davis will be replaced with an American flag. Lee will be replaced with a fountain, to be named Tricentennial Fountain. There is a kind of generic quality to all of it. Regardless of how one felt, the statues of Davis and particularly Beauregard and Lee, were unique. A flag and a fountain can be found anywhere in America.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there was a fear that the culture of New Orleans would lose its peculiar character as natives left and were replaced with a younger and more coastal crowd. There have been changes along the way. The smoking ban was one particularly dramatic for the bar scene. North Carrolton Avenue became a row of big box stores and chain restaurants. One change that occurred with hardly a heckle was the 2015 demolition of the Woolworth’s on Canal Street. It was the site of New Orleans’ first lunch counter sit-in 1960. It is being replaced with a multi-story condominium high-rise.
Landrieu has been stating that it is time to show the world that New Orleans is a changed city with a more inclusive future. By removing Davis, Beauregard, and Lee, but replacing two of the three with harmless and generic fixtures that can be found in Anywhere, USA, Landrieu plays into the narrative that he is destroying the city’s history and making it more palpable to tourists. It also erases from the city landscape recognition that there ever was an American Civil War. By default the war’s issues, in particular race and slavery, are pushed out of consciousness. To his credit Landrieu supports a Slave Ship Museum, but that project is years off and could die from lack of funding.
There have been murmurs from other corners about what should replace Davis and Lee but nothing hard and fast. Beauregard, by virtue of being a native son who did a lot of good after the war, has seen his share of people who want something honoring him. It would be a statue that showcases Beauregard the engineer, philanthropist, city developer, and civil rights proponent. In this charged atmosphere, it is unlikely to happen. Landrieu for his part has been strident in his rhetoric after Lee came down, and would be unlikely to support such a compromise position. There is also a reasonable fear that a new Beauregard statue could become a rallying point for Neo-Confederates.
It would be worthy of the city to honor other Civil War era notables. These notables should be part of the transformation of the city into a hopefully more inclusive incarnation. By being from the Civil War era, they would make it to where the past is still remembered and honored. Yet, who should we honor? A short list might include Andre Cailloux, Oscar J. Dunn, Algernon Sidney Badger, James Longstreet, P. B. S. Pinchback, Henry Clay Warmoth, Homer Plessy, Michael Hahn, and Paul Trévigne. In the coming weeks I will discuss the merits and problems with honoring these men.
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The text above is an commentary column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.