New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's Confederate monuments relocation committee had an idea to “renew Family Gras,” as suburbia nonsensically calls its supposedly wholesome alternative to the violence and debauchery of New Orleans.
The committee evidently figured a landmark was needed so that friends would have a handy place to meet amid the crowds along the neutral ground on Veterans' Memorial Boulevard in Metairie. “See you at the statue of General Lee,” they would say.
Fortunately Jefferson Parish officials vetoed the idea. Imagine the confusion if revelers failed to specify the statue of which General Lee — Robert E. or Harry. Just to make it more complicated, for history buffs Revolutionary War hero and later U.S, Army General Major General Harry Lee was Robert E.'s father.
O.K., the two Harry Lees are not easy to mix up. The statue of the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff, erected in 2008, a year after his death, does commemorate a young and svelte version, but nobody who saw him ride in a Carnival parade during his 30 years in office could think him as “Light Horse Harry Lee.” as Robert E.'s father was known. Indeed, the sheriff called himself “Fat Harry.” Regardless, two General Lees in the same location would be one too many.
The late sheriff's statue stands in Veterans Memorial Square, right where the crowds gather to party and listen to mostly over-the-hill rock banks during the run-up to Fat Tuesday. Whether the Confederacy belongs in such an avowedly patriotic spot is a question on which opinions will vary, but those who regard Robert E. Lee as a great man will surely be glad the idea of re-erecting his statue there was rejected. It would be quite a come down for a statue that stood so long on a lofty column in the heart of the city to become a tool of suburban boosters. That would be the ultimate indignity for the Lost Cause.
It was odd that such a suggestion should come from a committee that held the Confederacy in the highest esteem. All seven of its members would have been happier if former Mayor Mitch Landrieu had not taken it into his head to remove Confederate icons from public view in the first place. Indeed, Cantrell picked them precisely because they “cared” about the fate of the statues. Thus, there was no room for a diversity of opinion. The committee represented what its minutes called “a wide array of organizations and people who want to see these monuments re-erected in appropriate locations.”
The committee was charged with making recommendations for only three of Landrieu's four Confederate rejects. Everyone would rather just forget the Liberty Monument, which honored the White League's bloody revolt against Reconstruction authorities on the streets of New Orleans.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis presented no dilemma for the committee either. He died on a visit to New Orleans, and was initially buried in Metairie Cemetery, but he lived in Biloxi and his statue clearly belongs at Beauvoir, his estate there. He will be safely out of sight and out of mind.
Not so Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard, however, if Cantrell should choose to take her committee's advice. The recommendation that their statues be removed to Greenwood Cemetery has already reignited controversy, for it would more or less defeat Landrieu's purpose by putting them back on display in Orleans Parish, albeit not on public property and somewhat off the beaten track.
Both are by the renowned Alexander Doyle, and occupied conspicuous spaces. The finer work of art was the equestrian statue of Beauregard, which stood at the entrance to City Park. Beauregard, alone among Landrieu's warehoused Confederates, was actually from here, and, after a valorous war, played a decent role in progressive causes. He was not an obvious candidate for posterity's obloquy, but one Confederate is pretty much the same as another when revisionist blood is up.
There are plenty of Confederates in Greenwood, as, indeed, there are close by in Metairie Cemetery, where Beauregard himself is entombed. Greenwood is a much more sensible place to put his and Robert E Lee's statues than Metairie Cemetery, which would have been confusing. Harry Lee, the sheriff, is buried there.
Email James Gill at Gill1047@bellsouth.net.