A pair of men who opposed the toppling of Gen. Robert E. Lee's statue from Lee Circle want New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to replace the Confederate general with a plaza dedicated to a range of U.S. military and associated organizations.
And, apparently undeterred by the year and a half that has passed since Lee was taken from his pedestal, their plan calls for returning the focus of the St. Charles Avenue traffic circle to the man who led the Confederacy’s armies in Virginia with a series of plaques largely dedicated to his biography.
While the idea of a war memorial itself seems formulated to win broad support — the proposal specifies new statues should feature figures of diverse races and genders and include dedications to the troops of many wars, their families and even the Red Cross — the reintroduction of plaques lauding Lee would be a controversial move.
Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the host of other organizations and people who called over the years for Lee and other Jim Crow-era statues in New Orleans to come down have specifically condemned those monuments for seeking to glorify and whitewash the history of the Confederacy and its leaders.
Frank Stewart and Charles Marsala sent their ideas for a “Victory Circle” to Cantrell’s administration and provided a copy to The New Orleans Advocate.
Stewart is a businessman who was a vociferous opponent of Landrieu’s removal of Lee's statue and three other Jim Crow-era monuments last year. Marsala was also heavily involved in efforts to keep the statues standing.
City officials did not respond Friday to a request for comment on Stewart and Marsala's plan.
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The proposal suggests topping Lee’s now-vacant 60-foot pedestal with a statue of the “Goddess of Liberty,” inspired by a memorial to American troops killed in France during World War I.
Smaller statues depicting people of different races and sexes would be positioned around the base, representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Red Cross.
The pedestal also would feature inscriptions on each side honoring service members who were killed, wounded or missing in action, with a fourth dedication to Gold Star families, the relatives of troops who have been killed.
Each quadrant of the circle around the pedestal would be dedicated to gardens focused on wars from different periods in the country’s history.
The proposal includes renderings of each of those elements, but it is largely devoted to laying out the details of plaques that would weave glowing statements about Lee's life with detailed descriptions of the original statue and statistics about service members who lost their lives and were buried overseas.
"Victory Circle honors the soldier and does not judge the merits of any war," according to one of the plaques.
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The plaques also suggest the statue that was removed in May 2017 actually was intended to honor “Lee’s Tigers,” a nickname given to Louisiana troops serving in Virginia during what the proposal calls the “War for Southern Independence,” though printed copies of the oration given on the day the monument was dedicated in 1884 make clear the statue specifically honored Lee the individual.
There has been much uncertainty about what will be done with the site, with numerous suggestions about who or what should replace Lee at the top of the pedestal.
Many of the ideas have been at least partially tongue-in-cheek. They include pitches to honor nearly every New Orleans celebrity or cultural figure who has died in recent years — from Fats Domino to Tom Benson — and even some who are still with us, such as Drew Brees.
Others have proposed erecting statues of New Orleans civil rights icons such as Ruby Bridges, Homer Plessy or Dorothy Mae Taylor.
Cantrell has not said what she wants to do with the former sites of any of the removed statues or with the monuments themselves.