Over 100 years after it was constructed, the City of New Orleans removed a monument to the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
This move came almost two years after the local government made a decision to remove a total of four commemorative monuments located throughout the town. The first removal, of a monument commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place and the Louisiana residents who died there during the Reconstruction Era, was completed in April.
As these monuments begin to come down, questions are raised about the removal of art and artifacts from public settings and the potential rewriting of history.
While monuments like the Jefferson Davis statue can spark controversy, eliminating them does not solve any underlying issues – it simply covers them up. What happens to these pieces of history that let us know what New Orleans was like in 1891, and in the post-Civil war era? What about the artist who created this piece and pieces like it? Are the struck from our collective consciousness as we pretend they never existed?
More Removals are Scheduled
The dismantling of the Jefferson Davis statue will be followed by the removal of similar pieces, including statues of Confederates P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee. In a statement in May, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement:
“These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it…I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future. We should not be afraid to confront and reconcile our past.”
The removal of this piece was met by opposition and protest from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Monumental Task Committee, a local based non-profit.
Advocates on both sides of the argument were present, with some shouting “take it down” and others objecting.
What happens when monuments and symbols of the past are removed or destroyed? Where do they go – and what marks a monument as something to be destroyed or hidden away, and no longer considered a piece of history.
“When will they storm Washington’s Monticello?” Laura Ingraham asked about this issue on Twitter. While plenty of users pointed out the error (Washington is Mount Vernon, Jefferson is Monticello), the question remains.
Another monument located in Maryland remains in limbo; a statue featuring an unnamed Confederate soldier has been encased in a plywood box since 2015. The statue was repeatedly vandalized and the subject of controversy. It’s removal required approval of the Rockville Historic District Commission because of the statue’s historic designation.
Commissioned in 1913 to honor Maryland men who served in the Confederacy during the Civil War by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the 13-ton monument spent two years peeking over the top of a 20-foot-tall plywood box. As of 2017, it is being relocated at the county’s expense to private property in along the nearby Potomac River.
All of this follows the 2016 controversy in Columbia, South Carolina, when local officials removed the Confederate flag from the statehouse. The flag was relocated a few blocks away to the state museum.
Like all other countries and civilizations, United States history is not without its bleak moments. Even the native tribes who inhabited North America before European colonization can recount trouble days of war, slavery, and unspeakable cruelty. But, learning the lessons of history requires us to keep images from these times at the forefront.
Germany is a perfect modern example. Instead of dismantling Auschwitz brick by brick, the Polish government chose to keep the remnants of the death camp open for all to see. Visitors from all over the world frequent the location, and leave with a stern reminder of the dangers of unchecked tyranny. So far, no one on the left has called the Polish racist.
~ Facts Not Memes