All across Louisiana, we are engaged in an essential, and much overdue, conversation about removing and replacing the monuments that commemorate a racist and shameful history. The discussions vary across the state but share a common thread: what must come down, how to replace it and when.
In fact, these are three different issues. The answer to when is now. There is no justification for the continued display and glorification of a history that we all know is not worthy of pride. Monuments to those whose lives were dedicated to harming others — to a systemic and institutionalized system that denied millions of their humanity and treated human beings as property — have no place in the 21st century. Those monuments can, and should, be removed as quickly as possible.
What follows is a larger and more thoughtful conversation about what, if anything, should go up in their place. The answer may be “nothing.” Replacing public monuments is expensive, and the money might be better spent on other things to improve race relations in our communities. We may not need as many statues at this time in our history. Maybe we do, but that is a discussion that each community needs to have, accounting for the individual circumstances of each.
In New Orleans, Robert E. Lee can be removed from his pedestal, and the circle renamed as it was before, while we have a larger discussion about who, if anyone, should go up in his place. We may decide to spend the money on something that will have a more concrete and direct effect on eliminating race disparities in our city. Jefferson Davis can come down immediately, and the street renamed as easily as we rename other streets in our city. Homer Plessy lacks a street in his name; that would be one of many options for a renamed street that would unify and not divide us. Similar decisions can be made in other communities around the state.
Whatever we do, we must not wait to remove the symbols of hatred and divisiveness. They must come down right away. Healing will take longer, but the process must begin now. No more excuses. Take them down, now.
Marjorie R. Esman
executive director, ACLU of Louisiana