A forgotten past is more likely to be repeated. And MUCH has been forgotten about those represented by New Orleans’ Confederate symbols.

Consider Robert E. Lee, whose statue appears to be the focus of the ongoing controversy: Most think of Lee as a Southern general. Forgotten seems to be that Lee was a distinguished U.S. Army officer for 32 years (a hero of the Mexican-American war), that he was the first Confederate general to surrender and that the remaining Confederate forces swiftly followed. In this sense, it could be said that he played a large part in bringing the war to an end, saving many lives.

Lee viewed slavery as evil. Inheriting slaves, he freed them long before the war’s end. After the war, he stated, “I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished.” Following the war, his popularity grew — even in the North. He became president of Washington and Lee University. He supported President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction program and the reintegration of former Confederates into the nation’s political life.

That Lee is nationally respected is evidenced by his appearance on at least two U.S. postage stamps, being selected as one of the very first individuals for inclusion in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and being a symbol of reconciliation between the North and South. He devoted much of his life after the war to the reintegration of former Confederates into the national fabric and is honored throughout the U.S.

Also forgotten seems to be that slaves were owned by many figures revered in American and New Orleans history, including Simon Bolivar, Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and George Washington. So shall we tear down the Washington Monument and all the monuments dedicated to these men? Do we rename the U.S. capital city, Jackson Square, etc.?

Germany hasn’t obliterated all the concentration camps. Rather, they have made museums, memorials and educational monuments of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Shouldn’t we do the same for the R.E. Lee and other Confederate symbols? Rather than tear them down, why not place plaques explaining the full history of each — the good and the bad — on or near these symbols?

Finally, shouldn’t this be voted on? Isn’t there simply too much controversy for this to be decided by a few individuals? And if the vote is “yes,” what do we do about all the symbols of the slaveholders named above?

Oh, and wouldn’t we have to consider renaming the LSU Tigers — a nickname for many military troops from our state during the Civil War that was adopted by LSU?

Milton Pressley

professor

New Orleans