LAST WEEK I was in New Orleans when city council voted to remove the Confederate monuments to President Jefferson Davis, General P.G.T. Beauregard, and General Robert E. Lee. It is hard for me to imagine the removal of the stoic sculptures, but regardless of the outcome I wanted to visit this “Rebel art” before it possibly perished from the locations that it had been in for over 100 years.In talking with a few locals that had attended the council meetings. I was made aware that the reoccurring scene was one of heightened hostility, and intimidation towards anyone that wanted to protect the monuments from removal. These opinions were reinforced when watching the local news coverage.
New Orleans has been under the media microscope since Mayor Mitch Landrieu initiated the monument removal effort in the wake of last summer’s Charleston, S.C., shootings. New Orleans has now set a major precedent by trying to eradicate all Confederate physical memory from city property. If Mayor Landrieu and city council are able to follow through with their efforts (lawsuits are pending) one has to wonder where does this take us as a society, and to what end?Perhaps a reasonable compromise would be to have interpretation discussing how these monuments came into being, and what different demographics feel and have felt toward the statuary. If these sculptures are offensive to some is that completely bad? Perhaps these physical reminders of people and ideology are constructive to spark discussion on the hard and uncomfortable issues of race, Jim Crow, etc. I tend to feel American history should be viewed warts and all – taking the good with the bad. One person’s view of our past is not a unified perception, nor should it be. One thing has become obvious through this ordeal: These monuments are not simply relics of the past, they are creating thought and emotion to this day.
Robert Lee Hodge is a passionate Civil War filmmaker, speaker and preservationist. He is famous for his profile in the New York Times bestseller, Confederates in the Attic.