Thank you for your thoughtful editorial calling for a balanced approach to an open and frank discussion of our past. As stated, important conversations like this are taking place across the nation, particularly in the South. In my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, a city that once served as the capital of the Confederacy, this discussion has actually been going on for decades.
They are constantly exploring ways of acknowledging their past while looking forward to their future. A drive down Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue not only takes one past the likenesses of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and other Confederate military figures, but by the time you reach the state’s Capitol building at the end, you have also driven past a statue of Arthur Ashe, one of Richmond’s most important modern-day residents. Imagine the conversations and teachable moments that have been sparked by this drive.
If we remove those reminders of the past like the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle and put them behind the closed doors of museums or private collections where they will never be seen by most, how much harder it will be to teach about their impact on history? If we hide our past, painful or not, will we forget to teach its lessons, or worse still, will we be more inclined to repeat mistakes made?
It is no coincidence that the working title of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a Dream Speech was Never Again, the same call to action slogan used by the Anti-Defamation League to fight bigotry in all its forms. We all need reminders.
I hope that New Orleans’ mayor, city council, residents and tourists alike will all weigh in on this complicated issue with thoughtful conversation. History tells us not only where we’ve been, but it can also steer us in the direction we hope to go.
Nancy M. Marsiglia