Thursday, July 09, 2015

Monumental myopia

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu:  Let's relocate Confederate statues like Robert E. Lee, rename Jeff Davis Pkwy for ex-Xavier president Norman Francis

Besides the political grandstanding, the questionable priorities, the sanctimonious tone, the arguable historicity, the thinly-veiled political pandering.....I tend to agree with Mayor Landrieu that if these monuments and street names are truly that offensive to a large portion of our community because they invoke the specter of slavery, racism and bigotry....then they should absolutely be removed from public display.

What I can't stomach about this current campaign by Landrieu is his blatant hypocrisy.

Just last month Mayor Mitch Landrieu championed the effort to rename two sections of our city's streets after the late Rev. John Raphael Jr. and Pastor Robert C. Blakes.  The effort passed through City Council in a 4 to 3 vote.

I went to City Council chambers and spoke against the move on behalf of NOSHA - New Orleans Secular Human Association.  I cited two main points on why my fellow humanists and I felt the tribute was inappropriate.

The first reason is that in the case of Raphael the street is now using a religious moniker in its official name, "Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way".  This is a clear violation of church and state as taxpayers' dollars have now been spent to enshrine a specific religion in our city.

Presumably in perpetuity.

But the most important issue I raised is that both of these men were hostile towards the LGBT community having made numerous bigoted remarks against gay people.  Raphael went so far as to rant at his own brother's funeral and suggest that his death (he contracted the AIDS virus) was a punishment by God for his evil, gay lifestyle.

How is it that Landrieu can support renaming city streets after two notorious bigots while lobbying to remove arguably racial monuments that have been in the city over a century?

Let me be clear, if the monuments and street names cause this much offense to people in our city who associate Lee and Jefferson with slavery and bigotry, I have no issue with bringing them down.  In fact I would suggest we add Palmer Park to the list considering Benjamin Palmer was a staunch defender of slavery even after the Civil War and the passage of the emancipation proclamation.

Bigotry is bears the same ugly face today as it did over a hundred years ago.

But the arc of humanity is long and I believe it bends towards justice.

The country recently achieved yet another major civil rights victory when SCOTUS ruled in favor of gay marriage; American public opinion is clearly in favor of equal rights for the LGBT community.

These men the Mayor pushed to have city streets named after, Raphael and Blakes, were vocally hostile and prejudiced against the LGBT community in a city that has a very large gay population. We attract LGBT tourists from around the globe due to our reputation of acceptance.  New Orleans is above all, an island in the Deep South harboring free thinkers, alternative lifestyles, freaks, artists, writers, actors, musicians, come to this city because most likely you were an outcast in the place you came, you are just a neighbor.

These pastors we named streets after represent the exact opposite of what New Orleans is about...tolerance.

We now have two streets named after men that expressed their hate for gay people.  Is the Mayor concerned about gay people who now have to drive down those streets?  Did he vet these pastor's reputations before he rushed to get their names immortalized in our city's history?  Most importantly...does he approve or condemn these men's hatred of the LGBT community?

How could Councilperson Ramsey, whose district has the largest LGBT population of any district in the city, have voted in favor of glorifying these bigots' names in our city?

During the City Council meeting Councilperson Gray argued in defense of the street name changes noting that he had to drive down Robert E. Lee Blvd. all the time and that offended him so even if Blakes and Raphael offend the LGBT community the streets should still be changed and people should just learn to deal with it. Does he still take that attitude now that Lee and Jefferson are on the chopping block?  Is he going to tell the people who are offended by Blakes and Raphael they just need to deal with it?

And what about Jackson Square/Jackson Avenue?  Andrew Jackson rose to fame because of his ruthless slaughter of Native Americans.  Where do we draw the line?

What about Henry Clay?

What about Jean Lafitte?  The pirate Lafitte was one of the most brutal slave traders in Louisiana's history yet the city goes so far to glorify him as to dress up an actor every year in his likeness to roam the Quarter and interact with tourists in NOTMC/CVB's living history campaign.

If Mitch is intent on exorcising every monument or icon in the city that invokes memories of racism, hatred, and bigotry he should immediately renounce Blakes and Raphael along with Jefferson and Lee.

Anything less is pure hypocrisy, plain and simple.

That, of course, will never happen because this isn't really about principle,  It's about political pandering and public grandstanding.  Truth be told it's no different than Governor Jindal's acts of hypocrisy and exploitation.  


Anonymous said...

Well said. Perhaps my favorite of your many posts. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

YES. Some will say that there are no "perfect" people and if we set such high standards there will be no statues. This is total rubbish of course. While no one is perfect we can certainly find people to honor who were not OPENLY AND PERSISTENTLY HOSTILE to fellow humans. We can do this!



Ashton O'Dwyer said...

Anyone who knows me, personally, might already have concluded that I might be AGAINST the "Orwellian PURGE" a/k/a "Cultural Genocide" a/k/a "Ethnic and Cultural Cleansing" of WHITE SOUTHERNERS that is unfolding right before our eyes. But I am pragmatic enough to realize that I am simply "outnumbered" in a democratic process that recognizes the concept of "one man - one vote", and that if I open my mouth in protest, my words will be "twisted" to make me into a BIGOT, or even worse. I do want to say that the Negros of New Orleans and elsewhere are giving themselves too much credit if they truly believe that Ashton O'Dwyer thinks of them, or HATRED, every time he looks at a Rebel flag or Confederate monument. Rather, his thoughts are of resistance and defiance against tyranny by "GOVERNMENT" (and particularly Federal government), when it seeks to unreasonably impose its will on him, in violation of his freedom and God-given-right to individual liberty. The UGGA UGGA capitulation to MOB RULE that we are witnessing right now over flags and monuments is the best evidence of what I have always found offensive, but discretion being the better part of valor, I will keep my personal sentiments to myself and close circle of friends and Family. But a few "TRUISMS", please: Yes the flags and monuments will GO, for sure. But the monuments to the MOB, in their place, will always be "dilapidated houses, junk cars and glass in the streets". And if any of you think that "anything else" will "change" here in the CESSPOOL called New Orleans, after the flags and monuments are gone, then THINK AGAIN. And now a few FACTS about "The Great Emancipator", Honest Abe Lincoln: In his Inaugural Address delivered on March 4, 1861, just a month and a half before the commencement of hostilities at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln stated as follows: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so and I have no inclination to do so." SO MUCH FOR THE CIVIL WAR BEING FOUGHT OVER PRESERVATION THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY, HUH "HONEST ABE"! Sounds kind of like: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." Even after the War had started, on July 23, 1861, a UNANIMOUS resolution by the U.S. Congress stated: "The War is being waged by the government of the United states not in the spirit of conquest or subrogation, nor for the purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or institutions of the states, but to protect the union." And in a letter to Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862, Lincoln himself wrote to Greeley: "If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it." Then, on August 14, 1862, Lincoln summoned a delegation of "free" Negros to the White House, informing them of his plans to colonize them all BACK TO AFRICA, telling them: "Your race is suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of our race." HONEST ABE LINCOLN, THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR, INDEED! What should be done with "The Lincoln Memorial"? Ashton O'Dwyer

Jason Brad Berry said...


bayoustjohndavid said...

Are you sure it's just about pandering and grandstanding? If we were in Landrieu's first term, I'd think that, but the timing makes me wonder. Landrieu doesn't need to shore up political support for a re-election campaign. Since New Orleans is a majority black city, I don't think it's a never waste a crisis situation. The Charleston shooting could have just as easily started an initiative to decide what to do about the monuments, with the realization that something would be done after careful deliberation, as a movement to take down the monuments now.

Since I'm the cynic that I am, I immediately wondered what the biggest projects we could rush through would be and what kind of contracts could be awarded taking down the statues and putting up their replacements. I'm guessing fountains, but that might just be a shortage of imagination on my part. Still, I'd guess there'd be some nice contracts involved in taking down statues and replacing them with fountains. Plus, putting big "world class" fountains in place of Beauregard's statue and Lee Circle would have the added benefit of tying up traffic for a year or more (I'm guessing). It would help us ease into the psychological adjustment of living in a city without construction related traffic jams.

This might be a ridiculous suggestion, but it would it even be possible to just remove Beauregard's name from the statue and put up a plaque explaining that we wanted to retain the old statue but we won't honor confederate generals? I have no desire to compromise with lost-causers,* but I don't think 100 yr old statues should be taken down unless absolutely necessary.

*Back in my teens and twenties, I was a bit of a military history buff, especially Civil War History. I'd usually get a weird feeling around White Southerners when discussion got around to ways the South could have won the war. The feeling would be confirmed if got to ways "we" could have won the war, or hating Braxton Bragg because he cost "us" the war. At first, I thought it was mainly Southerners who older than me, but the feeling gets even weirder when I still hear that kind of sentiment from Civil War history buffs who are younger than me. I don't care one bit about the feelings of those people, but I do hate to see old statues come down.

Jason Brad Berry said...

"Landrieu doesn't need to shore up political support for a re-election campaign"

Let's reimagine this statement. What if he does need this? What if he plans on re-writing the charter and running for a third term?

Anonymous said...

Is it really the current generation's place to remove the Lee Circle monument? It's not like we are talking about a relatively new statute, or even one that is 50 to 75 years old. That's a 130+ year old statute that, right or wrong, has been standing in the same place that entire time. It's been referenced so many times in literature and is engrained in lifetimes of memories of every resident of the city for several generations now. Although there are a lot of people who are offended by it today due to its original intended meaning, I bet not a single person, black or white, would be offended by it 100 or 200 years from now if it is left alone. By then it would mainly just be viewed as a priceless historical relic. At the same time, I bet the citizens of the city 100 or 200 years from now would feel very fortunate that no earlier generations such as ours removed it if it's still standing at Lee Circle that many years from now. It would be 230 to 330+ years old by then and even more priceless than it is today. Cities all around this world, especially really old cities, are filled with similar statutes of former tyrants, Kings, dictators, etc who aren't worthy of praise based on today's standards of decency, but most of those cities treat their historic statutes as the priceless assets that they are even if the current citizens abhor the legacy of the person or persons depicted in the statutes. I just feel like the push to remove the Robert E Lee memorial or any other truly historic statute in the city is really shortsighted.

Why can't education be used to counter any feelings that it's existence means that black people aren't welcome or that the current government endorses racist beliefs? If it's just here because it was placed there so long ago and people understand that it's continued existence at Lee Circle is solely for historical purposes and definitely not an endorsement of Lee or the confederacy, then what is there to be offended about?