My solution is simple and elegant: Let’s call it “Lee Dorsey Circle.”
Grumpy commuters on their way to work in the Central Business District will be reminded of Dorsey’s working-class hit as they pass his statue.
“Working in a coal mine, going down, down, down,” the song goes.
The beauty of my solution is that it adds just one word to the name of the monument. So if someone, either by a slip of the tongue or through unreconstructed revanchism, were to call it “Lee Circle,” everybody, even guidebook-clutching tourists, would still know the spot.
It’s funny how, when things look least likely to change, suddenly everything shifts in a great leap forward. We saw that in the rapid fall from power of the Perez brothers, Chalin and Leander Jr., in Plaquemines Parish and in the relatively swift collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The quick turnaround of public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage is another example.
And now, the murder of nine black congregants in South Carolina has changed views on Confederate monuments in public spaces.
The Internet screeched with complaints last week about what “the liberals” had done to bring about the fall of symbols of the old Confederacy. But liberals had very little to do with it. Their positions on Confederate symbols the day after the church shootings were pretty much the same as they were the day before.
What sealed the doom was a rapid switch in the mindset of Republicans, such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, also of South Carolina, and Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, of Kentucky. Alabama’s administration, no hotbed of liberalism, removed Confederate flags from its public spaces. Even NASCAR piled on.
As if scales had fallen from their eyes, people could suddenly see clearly.
Even New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has admitted to a kind of blindness on this issue. This past October, he was schooled by musician Wynton Marsalis, who pointed out that some people might find the Lee monument hard to stomach.
Landrieu also was concerned that the Confederate monuments might be embarrassing as the city welcomes visitors for its 300th birthday celebration in 2018, kind of like the racist uncle you try to hide from friends you’ve invited to a family event.
Of course the city has thousands of visitors every year anyway, so it’s not like these Confederate shrines are big secrets. But the tricentennial is as good a reason as any to get rid of them.
Supporters of these symbols say they are about remembering history. But there’s a difference between history and honor. Having Robert E. Lee on a pedestal over downtown New Orleans makes him more than just a historical marker.
There’s an old saying that history is written by the winners. But throughout the old Confederacy in the years after the Civil War — or more accurately, in the years since Reconstruction —it was the losers who built the monuments and thereby shaped the public perception of history. They also wrote the laws, entrenching Jim Crow there for a century after Appomattox.
Not unexpectedly, a counter-reaction is underway, and we’ll probably see more, not fewer, Confederate flags in the days to come. But now that conservative Southern leaders have finally decided that those symbols have had their day in public places, that reaction will likely be just a dying gasp.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.