by Alexandra Elam
The recent racially-charged shootings at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in which nine innocent African Americans were killed, have many Southern states questioning their past. In particular, many are questioning whether the symbols of the former Confederate States of America stand for hate or heritage and if they should come down. Most recently, the South Carolina legislature voted in favor of removing the flag from the statehouse grounds. And it has come down.
For many Southerners, the Confederate flag and other symbols that pay homage to the states and the leaders that seceded from the Union stand as a symbol of bigotry and racism; and they say that it is time to lay the flag to rest and move on from the past. But others feel that the flag represents pride, heritage and history.
From Texas to Florida, Virginia to Georgia—the debate is raging. In New Orleans, there are many Confederate monuments and symbols such as the one at Lee Circle, where the statue that honors Confederate general Robert E. Lee stands; the Jefferson Davis Monument; and Liberty Monument, which commemorates the Battle of Liberty Place, a revolt by the Crescent City White League against the Reconstruction state government on Sept. 14, 1874 in New Orleans.
Like other Southern cities, the history of New Orleans is one drenched in pride, but there are moments in our past that many wish to forget. The confederate monuments and statues here in the New Orleans will continue to be at the epicenter of controversy for weeks to come as the City Council has now directed the Human Rights Commission to begin a review process on the whether these monuments stay in their current locations and as the nation continues to reflect on the actions of Roof, a 21-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist who is seen in photos displaying the Confederate flag.
But the big question that we must keep in mind as this all plays out is whether laying our ties with the Confederacy to rest truly help the Crescent City or our nation in the long run?
Here is what some New Orleans natives had to say about the Confederate monuments and symbols here in the city:
“People who oppose the Confederate flag and symbols should know that the flag stands for more than slavery and oppression. It stands for Southern pride.”
LSU student and native New Orleanian
“I feel that all remnants of history that carry oppressive pain should be removed from public sites. The items belong in museums so people never forget the past and learn from it.”
City Hall official and native New Orleanian
“Symbols of the Confederacy in New Orleans represent a horrid and hurtful past, rooted in a time when African Americans were treated as chattel. Today, symbols of the Confederacy only remind us of hate when they are in the public square. They should not be in the public and should instead be confined to museums for historical purposes.”
–Rev. Jonathan C. Augustine
pastor of St. Paul AME Church, attorney, author and native New Orleanian
“If we wanted to be generous we could give the statues and monuments to Slidell and Kenner. Those names are associated with former Confederate leaders. They could build parks and such to hold those statues, but not here in New Orleans. Those statues inscribe white supremacy in a place we do not wish it.”
–James Borders, historian
writer, consultant and native New Orleanian
“The white supremacy monuments have now become an embarrassment to a now majority African American city. They are deeply oppressive symbols to many people today and should be removed from the public.”
community activist, consultant
“We have so many more important issues in our city that need attention like education, housing, and aiding the homeless. But the Confederate monuments and statues don’t bother me as much as the Confederate flag. That flag is the symbol of an awful time. From a historical perspective, we can’t make such snap decisions because we need to think about the men who we honor with those statues. Robert E. Lee was a sick man and was penniless after the Civil War. Those monuments are part of the fabric of our city and are also points of discussion. But right now I think we need to think about more important issues.”
native New Orleanian
“I think that the increase in consciousness of Americans is a very good thing, but I also believe that the efforts to take down the Confederate monuments and flags are a little misguided. From a historical perspective, we have to keep in mind that New Orleans wanted to remember the Confederacy when these statues were erected. This was what they wanted. As a historian, I’d like to make the comparison of what is going on now in New Orleans is very similar to the Auschwitz concentration camp. There was no immediate rush to take that down. They are somber sites and people come to pay homage as well as ensure that they never forget the horrible atrocities that occurred there. The Confederate monuments are essentially the same thing. If we start to take down all of the Confederate monuments and symbols throughout the city because they remind us of a time that we would rather forget, then when and where does it stop?”
– Jari Honora