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Tearing Down Monuments to Treason in Defense of Slavery

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Above: Actual protestor for keeping up New Orleans monument to Jefferson Davis

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu has a good op-ed on why his administration is eliminating the Confederate monuments polluting it.

But New Orleans was also America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of misery and torture. Our history is forever intertwined with that of our great nation — including its most terrible sins. We must always remember our history and learn from it. But that doesn’t mean we must valorize the ugliest chapters, as we do when we put the Confederacy on a pedestal — literally — in our most prominent public places.

The record is clear: New Orleans’s Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy. These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it. They are an inaccurate recitation of our past, an affront to our present and a poor prescription for our future.

The right course, then, is to excise these symbols of injustice. The Battle of Liberty Place monument was not built to commemorate the fallen law enforcement officers of the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia. It was meant to honor members of the Crescent City White League, the people who killed them. That kind of “honor” has no place in an American city. So, last month, we took the monument down.

This week, we began the removal of a statue honoring Davis, and soon thereafter Lee and Beauregard. It won’t erase history. But we can begin a new chapter of New Orleans’s history by placing these monuments, and the legacy of oppression they represent, in museums and other spaces where they can be viewed in an appropriate educational setting as examples of our capacity to change.

After we’re done moving these monuments, we’ll face an even greater task: coming together to decide who we are as a city — and as a nation. Over the past few years, before the monument removal effort, we began Welcome Table New Orleans, which facilitates tough conversations about race and brings various communities together on projects in their neighborhoods. As part of our work, residents have discussed and designed reconciliation projects, such as a mural and oral history project on what was once part of a plantation, as monuments to the future, not the past.

This is really great. Memphis has moved to get rid of its horrible Nathan Bedford Forrest statue but has been stopped by the lovely state government of Tennessee. I don’t know too much about the various laws and regulations over these statues in cities and states. I do know New Orleans’ response should be a model for the rest of the South to follow, expunging these monuments to white supremacy and racial violence.

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