Aspen Ideas: New Orleans mayor weighs in on fallen monuments |

Aspen Ideas: New Orleans mayor weighs in on fallen monuments

Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu speaking at an Afternoon of Conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Last May’s removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans touched off praise and criticism.

The praise was due to what many residents thought was long past due — Confederate statues in public places constantly reminded black residents about the Old South’s views on slavery. The criticism came from New Orleanians who believed the removals watered down the Crescent City’s culture and identity and was an act of disrespect to those ancestors who wore grey in the Civil War.

This week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, one of the primary forces behind the removal of the public monuments of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Gen. Beauregard, along with the one opposing Reconstruction, called their displacements “very difficult and very painful.”

But he also said he believed it was the right thing to do, even though he might have lost some friends and allies in the process.

“The four particular statues in question were not statues put up to honor those individual men,” Landrieu said Wednesday, adding they were put up “to send the message that the Confederacy was the right cause and not the wrong cause.”

The Democratic mayor said removing the monuments was not “erasing history,” as some have argued. They could find another resting place in a museum or home, but not in a public space, he said.

“I think the Confederacy poses a special problem,” he said. “We can commemorate that in a museum, but not in a place where people are being brought together.”

Landrieu said he didn’t buy all the arguments to preserve the statues, but the most compelling ones came from people who expressed the removals were an act of disrespect for their kin — fallen Confederate soldiers.

“There were many people in the South who for many reasons feel like … their grandfathers fought and lost their lives,” he said.

The lingering question is will this movement — which includes taking down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol grounds in 2015 — creep into other aspects of America?

Landrieu said he doesn’t think so, noting that Washington & Lee University is named after both the nation’s first president and Gen. Lee, who was the college’s president until his death.

“I would not change the name of Washington and Lee,” he said, adding that Lee supported Reconstruction after the Civil War. And Washington himself was a slave owner.

“We’re smart enough and mature enough to handle this with care,” the mayor said.

Added another panelist, Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor at Harvard Law School: “We can distinguish between people who wanted to build the United States of America and people who wanted to destroy it. It’s possible to recognize people’s contributions at the same time as recognizing their flaws.”

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