As soon as Dylann Roof became a household name, Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed removing Confederate heroes from the streets of New Orleans.
He was hardly alone in springing into action after the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. When the Confederate battle flag is removed even from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, a profound change of mood has occurred nationwide.
Whether displacing the leaders of the long-lost cause will prevent further atrocities is open to some doubt, however. Confederate monuments don’t kill people; guns kill people. Still, symbols do have practical effects, and perhaps in the long run, racial animosities will diminish if Team Jefferson Davis is no longer assigned public places of honor.
In the short run, victory for the anti-Confederate movement might be just as likely to provoke the ire of some other sad loner with delusions of white supremacy. Roof, who posed with Confederate flags and styled himself the “last Rhodesian,” is clearly deranged, but that hardly makes him unique.
Regardless, for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other proponents of the status quo, the battle is clearly lost. The ordinance that provides for the removal of “nuisance” statuary requires that the city’s Human Relations and Historic Landmarks commissions hold public hearings and then make a recommendation to the council. Both have given the thumbs down.
It is perhaps not surprising when city commissions decide that Hizzoner was right all along, but it was already apparent that most members of the council think so, too. Soon enough, the statues will be history on the public streets, and the next question will be who gets to occupy the vacant plinths.
Gov. Bobby Jindal interrupted his presidential campaign to come out against removing the monuments, and says he is looking at ways to stop it, although the law appears to give him no authority in the matter. Jindal took a similar stance a few months ago when he refused a request from the NAACP to quit issuing license plates that feature the Confederate flag.
The three Republicans campaigning to succeed Jindal also are in favor of leaving the monuments where they are, which just goes to show how far their party has come since its carpetbagger days. For GOP candidates in the modern South, Confederates are a cool source of votes.
No candidate would dare say so, of course. Instead, we have to put up with a lot of pishtosh about rewriting history, when all that is proposed is finding a discreet home for statues erected many years after the Civil War ended. The other plaint from the Confederate preservation side is that Landrieu should not be wasting his time on such a trivial issue when the city faces dire problems and violent criminals roam the same streets the ancient figures survey. This is another objection without merit, for confronting one problem does not mean ignoring others. Multitasking has always been a mayoral requirement.
It may be that our public spaces would be diminished esthetically without Edward Virginius Valentine’s Jefferson Davis and Alexander Doyle’s Robert E. Lee and Pierre Beauregard. Whatever the merits of the Lee sculpture, however, they cannot be discerned without powerful binoculars, so tall is the supporting column. Beauregard astride his horse at the entrance to City Park is pretty imposing, however, and same goes for the president of the Confederate States himself. The fourth candidate for removal, the so-called Liberty Monument, is just a granite obelisk erected to commemorate the White League’s bloody Reconstruction-era putsch.
Whether or not these monuments are significant works of art, traditionalists see Landrieu’s proposal as sacrilege, the most heinous cultural crime this side of Palmyra under the Islamic State. But no destruction is planned here, and the grizzled Confederates will presumably still be available for inspection in a museum somewhere.
That is plainly where they belong. It is quite a wrench to abandon the myth of a superior antebellum Southern civilization, and we are accustomed to cherishing heritage in full view. But, though glorifying Confederates may not have turned Dylann Roof into a mass murderer, the time has come for government to remove his heroes from the public square.
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.