If the statue to Robert E. Lee causes discomfort, unease, pain and anger to some of our citizens, why don’t these same citizens feel similarly when walking across Jackson Square and encountering the “slave owner and Indian killer” Andrew Jackson perched on his mighty steed?
Those who despise Lee seem to believe the slave-owning men who became president of the United States enjoy an exemption from having their monuments, schools, states, streets, universities, money, cities and parishes torn down or renamed. To them, the end justifies the means. George Washington owned over 300 slaves, Thomas Jefferson had almost 150 slaves and good old Andrew Jackson owned 160 slaves who worked on his beloved Hermitage plantation. They owned slaves while serving as president of the United States.
Not only did Andrew Jackson own slaves while holding the highest office in our country, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the forced removal of approximately 50,000 Native Americans from their 25 million acres of homeland. Remember the “Trail of Tears”? Surely, those with Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee or Seminole blood take great offense at the honorific position Andrew Jackson has been granted by the city of New Orleans. Why are our elected leaders silent on Jackson?
Back to Lee’s statue — it was erected during Carnival in 1883 and has stood in the same place for 132 years. Six generations of New Orleanians found a way to accept this statue as part of their cherished city’s historical landscape. Lee’s statue was in place during the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Jim Crow, the Korean War, the civil rights movement, desegregation, the Vietnam War and 9/11. Why has it taken 132 years for these unsettling feelings to emerge precipitously?
The juxtaposition of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina and the growing demand (mostly by elected politicians) to take down Lee’s statue is captivating. On one hand we celebrate how New Orleanians worked together to rebuild our city and in the same breath propose that the statue of Robert E. Lee divides us in unimaginable ways.
Arlington National Cemetery sits on the property owned by Robert E. Lee. Arlington is the world-famous, large, white-columned house that was inherited by Lee’s wife, who was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. The Lees lived there from 1831-61. Today, the official name given to this place by the United States National Park Service is Arlington House — The Robert E. Lee Memorial. It sits in the midst of our country’s most sacred and hallowed ground.
If our nation can accept this memorial to Lee, then surely our city can preserve the Lee statue. Or open Pandora’s box and Jackson’s place in New Orleans eventually goes, too.