The Crescent City Seems to be Losing Some of Its Monuments

Downtown NOLA

I was back in New Orleans in early February in conjunction with the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) Deans Conference. Once again, hundreds of business school deans got together to commiserate about their challenges, brag about the extraordinary work (perhaps an exaggeration) they have done, and renew old friendships that sometimes last for decades. For me, the meeting involved seeing even more new faces, a chance to hear about and discuss best practices in curriculum development and fundraising, visit with one of our most interesting alums, and have the opportunity to be back in a city that I really like.

This visit was a bit different than all of the other times I have been in the Big Easy. On Tuesday February 7, while Bill Hargrave, Dean of Business at Auburn University, was moderating a session on crisis management (his business school had a big fire in 2016), my phone alarm went off, three times. Little did we know but it was Twister Tuesday! No one seemed to know what to do, and there was no sign of the Hilton Staff (maybe they were in some bunker). So, we managed that crisis by not doing anything at all. Imagine that, 70 or so for the most part Type A personalities frozen in their chairs. Before much more time had passed, six tornados had set down (there were five injuries reported), one in Orleans Parish, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was closed, and Governor Jon Bel Edwards (last name sound familiar?) had declared a state of emergency. We, yes we, just sat there hearing about how others managed their crises!

New Orleans continues to recover for the devastation from Hurricane Katrina. There are still remnants of properties destroyed, but on the positive side, there has been significant renovation and re-birth adjacent to the river, downtown, in neighborhoods and along Canal Street and other main thoroughfares. Only one large eyesore remains downtown, the former World Trade Center hotel at the foot of Canal right at the river. The Riverside Complex was buzzing with foot traffic, and on a Sunday afternoon I observed the departure of the Norwegian Dawn, a cruise ship with a bunch of crazy tourists bound for a few days of extreme sunburn in the Caribbean.

New Orleans celebrates its diverse culture, and, in particular, the contributions of immigrants to its over 200 years of history. The statue pictured below is one dedicated to Italians, my people. It’s a very nice work of art, and is located along the river walk.

Nola Statue

On the statue and monument front, New Orleans is having the same conversations that are occurring in many cities and towns in the old south. One of the main issues to be resolved is the future of monuments, mostly statues, commemorating the Civil War. I have written about statues before, in particular, the issues relevant to the removal of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave-trader and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, in Memphis. In 2015, the Memphis City Council voted to relocate the statue from a public park, only to be over-ruled by the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Recently, May 2017, four statues were taken down, three at night, after the City Council of New Orleans voted to have them removed. As expected, the backlash from incensed supporters of southern heritage was significant, thus there were no announcements regarding when the statues would be moved. A genius legislator from Mississippi recommended that the New Orleans leaders be lynched (although he did apologize later). Others posted Facebook threats and left nasty language telephone messages. Workers who removed the statues wore protective gear and had their faces covered out of fear of reprisal.

So, who came down:

  • General Robert E. Lee, all 16 feet of him on a 60 foot pedestal above St. Charles Avenue at Lee Circle. We know his historical significance as the leader of the Confederate States Army. His statue was the last to be removed, May 19. The statue was erected in 1884.
  • General Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard, four feet taller than General Lee and on horseback. His statue was located at City Park, and was erected in 1915. P.G.T. Beauregard was a United States Military Academy graduate, rising to the rank of Brevet Major in the U.S. Army before he became a General in the Confederate States Army. He commanded the armies of the western theatre, but also served in Charleston and Petersburg. His statue came down May 17.
  • Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America. His statue was 6 feet high, and it resided on a 12 foot column on Jefferson Davis Parkway at Canal Street. It was erected in 1911. Davis was also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, rising to the rank of Colonel in a volunteer regiment. He served as Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857 under President Franklin Pierce. Davis’ statue came down May 11.
  • The Liberty Place Monument was erected in 1891, and commemorated a bloody uprising in 1874 of the white-supremacist Crescent City White League. The league objected to the New Orleans integrated police force and state militia. The monument was 35 feet tall and was located on Canal Street near the French Quarter.

PGT Beauregard monument down

I recommend reading more about the four monuments, asking yourself the more general question: what are we to do, if anything, with the hundreds or more monuments still standing throughout the south?

One final observation. The New Orleans Airport, named for Louis Armstrong, is old and tired. However, a new one is on the way, scheduled completion 2018 (you can look it up). Will the new airport be named for Louis Armstrong?


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