Harmony Circle, A Monument Called Freedom and More Kumbaya Moments . . . Give Us a Break!

Here we go again . . . more mumbo jumbo as it relates to what should go in what used to be Lee Circle, now known as Harmony Circle — a renaming that was, in our opinion, an insult to our struggle as a people.

From 1884 to 2017, the traffic circle once known as Tivoli was named to honor Robert E. Lee. In 2017, the monument to Lee came down and the circle was eventually renamed. So for 133 years, one of New Orleans’ most identifiable landmarks, located in the heart of the city paid homage to the racist, slaveholding general of a treasonous army. With the tearing down of that monument came an opportunity to rename it, but instead of honoring a strong Black man in our community, someone central to the struggle for civil rights, the best they could come up with is “harmony”! 

So . . . now . . .we are supposed be all harmonious. Let’s forget the injustices and indignities Black people have been met with in this nation; let’s just hold hands and sing “kumbaya”. That’s the problem with America’s reckoning with its racist history. It wants reconciliation without recompense. 

What do we mean by that? Well, as we pen this editorial, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that would end affirmative action in college admissions. The history of higher education in America dates back 387 years with the opening of Harvard College. Then, in 1795, the first public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was founded. Many of these institutions of higher learning across the country did not fully open their doors to Black students until they were forced to by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Higher Education Act of 1965. In fact when many of these historically white institutions were founded, it was illegal to teach enslaved people to read or write. 

Now consider that the case that paved the way for affirmative action in college admissions was decided by the high court in 1978, a mere 45 years ago. Black people have dealt with centuries of injustice in this country, and now America is tired of quotas in college admissions after 45 short years of something that even looks like making amends. Where’s the harmony in that? America wants a “can’t we all just get along” relationship, but too many of its leaders, people in places of power, loathe the thought of compensating Black people for the harms we have suffered because of the history, policies and practices of this nation and its institutions—reconciliation without recompense. But we digress.

Recently, former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, a retired Republican lawmaker who publicly endorsed Donald Trump, has offered his thoughts on a monument for the platform that has been empty now for about six years. His guest column appears on page 8 of this edition of The New Orleans Tribune.  

His idea for a monument is one called “Freedom”, depicting a young Black girl in a simple smock, draped in a flag, holding a Bible, foot pressed forward to the future. 

We imagine that one day the empty pedestal where the statue of Robert E. Lee once stood will eventually be filled. 

And since it probably will be, we contend that some giant sculpture of a sweet, benign little Black girl, her hair probably in pigtails, with a flag across her shoulders and a Bible in her hand absolutely will NOT do.

Moreover, if we must put a statue in Harmony Circle, neither can it be one of the less-threatening, ubiquitous Black woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Quite frankly, anything short of a strong Black man on that pedestal would make no sense. 

He needs to have a look of determination on his face. He is not oblivious to the pain and struggles of being Black America, but he is resolute in his mission to rise in spite of them. In one hand, he holds a hammer and perhaps a book in the other, symbolizing how our people have used both our might and our minds to persevere in this country.

His feet need to be squarely planted, one right next to the other because he will not go backwards, but he cannot move forward just yet as there is still work to be done. 

Clad him in a suit, a workman’s uniform, perhaps one of a Pullman porter. It would not matter, but there would be no flag draping his shoulders. 

His head should be tilted back slightly so that his gaze is upward and outward as he  imagines the America that could be. 

When we sit back and reflect . . . really reflect . . . on the ways that Black men have been and are mistreated, emasculated, maligned and overly incarcerated in America, nothing less than a statue that honors his true place in our nation, our communities and our families will do. 

Enough of This! Why Bother?

Still, when we consider that there are those who don’t want the truth about this nation’s history told in a classroom, we wonder whether a stone carving placed on a pedestal in the middle of some town square or if the name on a school building really matters. Just look at the former Lusher, now innocuously named The Willow School. It is one of the top performing public schools in Orleans Parish. Yet in a public school system where the student population is almost 90 percent Black, The Willow school’s students are overwhelmingly white. Hell, it might as well still be called Lusher.  

Indeed, there are some among us fighting to make certain that lessons and conversations that explore and explain the truth about the making of this nation don’t occur in the very spaces where honest and accurate discussions are vital to learning and critical to rectifying  ghastly wrongs so that we might actually move forward, becoming a better nation. 

Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to a recently updated Education Week analysis. Moreover, 18 states have successfully imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other steps. 

Here in the south, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida have passed such measures. Luckily, there is no such ban in Louisiana yet. But not for a lack of effort.

In April 2021, Republican Rep. Ray Garofalo voluntarily deferred a bill that would ban teaching of “divisive concepts,” after criticism from other Louisiana lawmakers and state education officials. He introduced two other bills during the 2022 session that failed.

During the 2023 legislative session, a state House committee deferred a resolution to request K-12 schools and institutions of higher education submit a report of all programs and activities related to critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion. Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges, supposedly “concerned” about how much money is being spent on the programs, authored the measure, which died because of well-deserved push back and criticism. 

Still, we are sure Louisiana Republicans will try again next year.

Not Much Has Changed

Speaking of holidays, did y’all know that Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021, is the first federally approved holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was approved in 1983. That was 42 years ago, when the poverty rate among Black Americans was almost three times higher than the poverty rate among White Americans. Forty-two years later, and look at all of the progress we have made as a nation relative to racial equity. We have not one, but two federal holidays that pay homage to the Black experience in America — one that honors a worthy civil rights leader and another that recognizes when enslaved people in Texas finally learned of their emancipation. 

Guess what else we have? That’s right, the poverty rate among Black Americans is 2.5 times higher than that of White Americans. Some 40 plus years and two federal holidays later, Black people in America, in 2023, are still disproportionately impoverished in comparison to their white counterparts, by nearly the same rate as they were in 1983. If you are not shocked and appalled, you should be.

In fact, we will find that very little significant progress has been made for Black American as a whole. Just look at the numbers.

Of course, we have outlined the stagnate disparity in poverty rates already. But there is more.

Education:  Almost 70 years post Brown v. the Board of Education and Racial inequities continue to exist in U.S. schools.

According to studies by the Brookings Institution and the American Psychological Association, Black students are almost four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers for the same infractions. They are offered fewer advanced classes. Black students are more likely to attend schools where police officers are on staff, but there are no school counselors.

Nearly 800,000 students attend schools where 20 percent of the teachers do not meet all of the state requirements for state certification, and Black and Latino students are more likely to attend these schools than white students. The roles that poverty and school districting play in these factors cannot be overstated as the Education Trust, an organization committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle racial and economic barriers embedded in the American education system, also notes that schools that serve more minority students typically receive less funding. 

Homeownership: In 2021, the year we got Juneteenth and nearly six years after cities across the country began removing confederate monuments from public spaces at record pace, the homeownership rate for Black Americans was roughly 44 percent, nearly 29 percentage points lower than the 72.7 percent homeownership rate for White Americans. It is the largest gap in homeownership between Black and Whites in more than a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

To be sure, the homeownership rate among Black Americans has only seen the slightest improvement since 1970 when it was 41.6 percent.  

One would think that with racial discrimination in housing “officially” abolished just one week after Dr. King’s assassination, with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the homeownership rate among Black Americans would have grown by more than just a couple of points over the next half century or so.

It has not. And to make matters worse, if you are in public school in a state like Florida, it is now against state law for you to be taught how racist government policies, segregation, redlining and discriminatory practices in housing and banking contributed to both the stagnate homeownership rate among Black and the deep gulf between Blacks and whites in homeownership that exists today. But hey, at least we have Juneteenth. 

Of course, that was sarcasm. For us, Juneteenth means very little and statues of gentle little Black girls replacing those of bigots and white supremacists are not acceptable, not when the poverty rates of Black and whites in the nation are as disparate now as they were more than 40 years ago . . . and not when the homeownership rate for Black Americans has only grown by 2.4 percentage points in 53 years, and not when so-called leaders across this country are fighting to keep the truth of this nation out of history books and classrooms.

Low-hanging Fruit

It has been repeatedly reported that the move to make Juneteenth a federal holiday is some how connected to or at least energized by the Black Lives Matters Movement.

BLM grew out of the responses to the murders of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both in 2014. The 2020 murder of George Floyd brought new public attention to the killings of Black people at the hands of police or white terrorists. Yet, somehow the response to activism designed to highlight the racism, discrimination, and racial inequality experienced by Black people today was Juneteenth?

So let’s get this straight. People were marching in cities across the nation decrying the wanton taking of Black life, and Juneteenth was the answer? We sure hope not. 

But if there is any truth to that, we want a do over. Is there any way to trade one federal holiday for some economic equity and closure of the racial wealth gap? 

How about we trade naming rights for schools for some meaningful criminal justice reform.  Student loan forgiveness for a handful of statues? Decades of racists policies and practices that prevented Black families from owning homes and building generational wealth is why Black colleges grads owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than their white counterparts, making student loan forgiveness a significant racial equity issue.

You know what . . .we will even throw some street names if it means an end to financial policies in the home buying and banking industries that hike up interest rates for Black customers.

For the umpteenth time, erecting new statues, renaming buildings and shutting down the federal government for a day do not satisfy the unexecuted contract this nation has with its Black citizens. To be sure, America owes much more. And it’s time we stop settling for the low-hanging fruit.

Please do not misunderstand our point. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the little things like statues and naming rights and holiday observances that are not only embraced and celebrated by Black people, but by an entire nation that is ready to honestly reconcile its past while boldly stepping into a brighter, better, more equitable future. The problem is the little things are all we seem to get.

We Are Proud to Have Served Our Community for 38 Years. Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Providing a Trusted Voice. We Look Forward to 38 More!