Citizens of New Orleans are being diverted from what should be the primary concern regarding proposals to remove the three Confederate monuments. The focus of attention needs to be on Article VII, Sec. 146-611 of the New Orleans Code of Ordinances.
Specifically, the New Orleans City Council has been asked to declare that the Confederate monuments violate subsection (b)(1) of this ordinance since their presence does “honor, praises, or fosters ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States … and gives honor or praise to those who … suggest the supremacy of one ethnic, religious, or racial group over any other.”
This so-called “nuisance ordinance” allows a citizen the ability to initiate the process for removing any monument or statue on public property believed to foster an ideology in conflict with the requirement of equal protection of citizens. Therein lies the problem.
Consider the Buffalo Soldiers monument, located in Audubon Park, as an example. Were Buffalo Soldiers patriots or “Indian killers”? The New Orleans City Council has officially deemed them patriots, while the American Indian Genocide Museum maintains the Buffalo Soldiers assisted the federal government in the planned genocide of Native Americans.
On July 24, 2008, the New Orleans City Council approved Resolution R-08-404, stating: “Be it resolved by the Council of the City of New Orleans, in grateful recognition of the historic service to our city, our State, and our Nation by these native sons, now proclaims that July 28 shall henceforth be designated as Buffalo Soldier Day.”
In yet another act to honor the Buffalo Soldiers, on April 11, 2013, City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said, “The Buffalo Soldier legacy and the many community contributions of our local chapter certainly deserve recognition. These men not only represent an essential part of our history, but they serve as mentors to young adults in the New Orleans community.” On the same day, Councilman James Austin Gray II said, “I am honored to celebrate the Buffalo Soldiers, an admirable group of men who truly stand for patriotism and commitment to the U.S. military and their communities. We are proud to welcome the Buffalo Soldiers for their annual reunion here in New Orleans.”
Is there a better example to show that the heritage proudly celebrated by one person or group is often the source of agony and despair for another?
We now have a whimsical situation with some council members expressing their desire to remove the Confederate monuments while at the same time praising and honoring the valor and courage of the Buffalo Soldiers, who, in turn, the people of the First Nations believe tried to exterminate them!
It is folly to seek what was in the hearts and minds of combatants 100 to 150 years ago. The Buffalo Soldiers fought valiantly and followed orders. They did not know contemporary descendants of those they fought would claim they were committing genocide.
It is appropriate to honor the Buffalo Soldiers while acknowledging some of their deeds are not held in high esteem today by all Americans. Why not take the same approach with the Confederate monuments?
If the Confederate monuments are removed because they have been found to violate Article VII, Sec. 146-611 of the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, the path is cleared for Native Americans (or other groups) to seek the removal of statues or monuments on public property (including Andrew Jackson) which they believe to be something that “… fosters ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States.” Denying such requests would be in contradiction to the very wording of the nuisance ordinance and possibly the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The ordinance is the problem. We cannot cherry-pick which monuments to keep and which ethnic groups to ignore (like Native Americans).
The solution is not destruction or removal of monuments, statues or street names. Rather, the answer is education and compromise. Perhaps the City Council could declare one school day a year as “New Orleans Cultural Heritage Day,” asking that all schools in the city participate in ways that enhance our children’s knowledge of the good and bad that made our city great today.
Richard Marksbury, a university administrator, lives in New Orleans.