It would probably make for more racial harmony, and would certainly save a bunch of money, if U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier were to rule that Confederate monuments in New Orleans should stay put.
Sure, the iconoclasts would be mad for a while, but, if the plaintiffs are right and the monuments are protected by both state and federal laws, the City Council would have no choice but to give up the ghost. Protests, being pointless, would soon fade away.
But if the plaintiffs are wrong, and the council and Mayor Mitch Landrieu are within their rights, the firebrands would not be content until all evidence of our racist ancestry has been purged. We already know that their focus extends to well before the Confederacy; statues of Bienville and Andrew Jackson, for instance, are in some quarters regarded as candidates for removal because they owned slaves and oppressed Indians. Logic might demand that monuments honoring the champions of Jim Crow go too.
Among those urging the council to go further in ridding us of monuments offensive to modern sensibilities is Jack Maguire, whose involvement in politics hereabouts goes back to when it was a white man’s game. Maguire, a top aide to Mayor Vic Schiro some 50 years ago, later sat for 16 years on the Mandeville City Council and wrote a couple of books about Louisiana governors. He now chides council members in an email for “mere tokenism” in targeting only Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, P.G.T Beauregard and the Liberty Monument.
This is a somewhat mischievous move by Maguire, because, like most people in New Orleans and statewide, he wants the monuments left where they are. But, so long as a few Confederates are to be regarded as beyond the pale, he maintains that there is no reason to spare all the others. And if consistency requires the council to go the whole hog, then segregationists must be toast too, since they were as committed to white supremacy as their slave-owning forebears.
This is perhaps the most mischievous of Maguire’s points, since it would mean the removal of the Chep Morrison monument in Duncan Plaza. There is a strong esthetic argument for that too, but Maguire merely recites how proudly Morrison proclaimed his segregationist credentials.
Any plan to dislodge Morrison might be a ticklish one for Landrieu, who set the whole anti-Confederate ball rolling. Landrieu’s father, Moon, who succeeded Schiro as mayor, came up as a protégé of Morrison, Maguire points out, although he didn’t mention that in his email to the council.
Moon Landrieu himself is credited with opening up City Hall to black people. Morrison, on the other hand, who was mayor from 1946 until 1961 and ran unsuccessfully for governor three times, liked to brag that he had been sued more times by the NAACP than any other public official in Louisiana.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Morrison’s appointment as ambassador to the Organization of American States over the objections of the NAACP in 1961. He died in a plane crash three years later.
Even if we did discount history since the Civil War, there would still be plenty of statues as deserving of removal as the ones the council targeted. John McDonogh, for instance, whose statue stands in Lafayette Square, may have been a philanthropist and benefactor of public education, but he also owned slaves. And if Beauregard deserves to go, what about that other Confederate general, Albert Pike, on Jefferson Davis Parkway?
And surely some of the old racists honored on private property are just as offensive as those the council has the power to remove. There must, in this age of campus hypersensitivity, be Tulane students willing to campaign for the renaming of Gibson Hall, for instance. Randall Lee Gibson was a Confederate general, a U.S. senator and a president of Tulane, who declared black people “the most degraded of all men,” evidently unaware than his great-grandfather was a free man of color in South Carolina.
The list of potential candidates for removal is practically endless. “Where will it all end?” Maguire wonders. Whatever the answer, if Barbier throws out the lawsuit, the city will be unrecognizable and most residents will wish we’d never started.
James Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.