Thursday ReadsPosted: July 2, 2015 Filed under: New Orleans, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andrew Jackson, confederacy, historical monuments and sites, Robert E Lee 20 Comments
BostonBoomer got into a bad fight with a bush that needed trimming and came out the loser yesterday. She’s laid up at her mother’s house with a terrible, horrible, awful, very bad rash. So, I’m writing today’s post and it’s on the tardy side as usual these days. I’ve never been a morning person but now I have no reason to be since all my lectures, etc. happen in the evening. So, I’m just going to get us caught up on some thoughts today on the cultural shift of the last few weeks and give you a few suggested reads.
There’s some interesting things going on in New Orleans that I thought I’d share with you. We’re a southern city in a southern state even though our history is more nuanced that some of the other southern states and cities. There are two very prominent statues in the city from our past. The first is one of Andrew Jackson atop a stallion to recognize his role in the Battle of New Orleans.
The second statue stands on top of a huge column and is part of a traffic roundabout called Lee Circle. It is, of course, a statue of Robert E. Lee the Confederate General. Lee looks more than a little defiant with his back to the Mississippi and his arms crossed. He faces due North.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has decided that he’d like to take down the statue and rename the circle because he feels that it’s a little too much of a monument to a confederate general. My question is when do we cross the line from glorification of past sins to erasing some history that we need to really discuss and understand.
Lee was not exactly Nathan Bedford Forrest, the ex-Confederate General who helped to found the KKK. Nor, was Lee a particularly gung-ho Confederate General to start out with if you remember your history. Lee did something completely different than Forrest after the Civil War. He became an educator and an advocate of educating black Americans. Lee also freed his slaves 10 years before the war. So, he was a complex man with a complex history as are most of our historical figures. Still, both of these men who led an insurrection need to be understood without glorification. Can a monument area become an outdoor teaching museum made to elucidate instead of glorify just as many of our National Parks and Museums already do.
After the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson became a U.S. President who is notable for the “Trail of Tears” which was the policy of forcibly and violently removing Native Americans from their land. The Chocktaw nation was removed from their land in the south and sent on what amounted to a death march west to what is now Oklahoma. There are two National Parks where Jackson figures prominently. One is the Chalmette Battlefield site where the Battle of New Orleans took place. The other is Trail of Tears National History Trail. One is a site of national pride. The other is a site of national shame. Jackson, you may recall, is still etched on our $20 bill. If any one’s statue needs to come down it is surely that of Andrew Jackson.
However, history is a nuanced bitch and should never be white washed or banned or removed. While I fully support removing the Confederate Battle Flag off of public buildings that aren’t museums, I question the wisdom of Mitch Landrieu and others who want to remove monuments rather than use them as an opportunity to teach.
Again, If any one deserves to have all his monuments torn down it is the genocidal Jackson. Yet, without the win at the Battle of New Orleans we might have a totally different history with the British. The citizenry who could vote at the time made him President. He was an extremely controversial President and at times very unpopular for a variety of reasons. Studying the variety of reasons helps us to learn about past mistakes and the ramifications of these mistakes to our present and future.
Andrew Jackson had long been an advocate of what he called “Indian removal.” As an Army general, he had spent years leading brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida–campaigns that resulted in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of acres of land from Indian nations to white farmers. As president, he continued this crusade. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government the power to exchange Native-held land in the cotton kingdom east of the Mississippi for land to the west, in the “Indian colonization zone” that the United States had acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase. (This “Indian territory” was located in present-day Oklahoma.)
The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully: It did not permit the president or anyone else to coerce Native nations into giving up their land. However, President Jackson and his government frequently ignored the letter of the law and forced Native Americans to vacate lands they had lived on for generations. In the winter of 1831, under threat of invasion by the U.S. Army, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from its land altogether. They made the journey to Indian territory on foot (some “bound in chains and marched double file,” one historian writes) and without any food, supplies or other help from the government. Thousands of people died along the way. It was, one Choctaw leader told an Alabama newspaper, a “trail of tears and death.”
This is what Mitch says about removing the Lee Statue and redoing Lee Circle.
Now is the time to talk about replacing the statue of Robert E. Lee, as iconic as it is controversial, from its perch at the center of Lee Circle, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced Wednesday (June 24) during a gathering held to highlight his racial reconciliation initiative.
“Symbols really do matter,” he said. “Symbols should reflect who we really are as a people.
“We have never been a culture, in essence, that revered war rather than peace, division rather than unity.”
[Listen to Landrieu’s speech on why Lee Circle should be renamed, or read a full article on his announcement here. ]
The slaying last week of nine black people in a historic Charleston, S.C., church at the hands of Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, has sparked heated debate about whether the Confederate battle flag and other symbols associated with the country’s racist past ought to be displayed in public places.
Just two days ago, Landrieu was noncommittal when asked whether the Lee statue should be removed, though he called for a larger discussion on it and other Confederate monuments in New Orleans. The 2018 Tricentennial Commission, whose tasks include addressing the city’s complex racial history ahead of its 300th anniversary, would also examine the propriety of the monuments continued display on public property, the mayor’s office said.
“These symbols say who we were in a particular time, but times change. Yet these symbols — statues, monuments, street names, and more — still influence who we are and how we are perceived by the world,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Mayor Landrieu believes it is time to look at the symbols in this city to see if they still have relevance to our future.”
Now, I will give him credit if he manages to get Jefferson Davis Parkway renamed. That shocked me the first time I saw it. But, there’s an opportunity lost in the Lee Circle suggestion. That opportunity is to highlight a complex moment in history and a complex man. One of his former slaves Rev. William Mac Lee wrote some fascinating bits about their lives together.
There are many more things that we could learn about the horrible institution of slavery and the men that enabled it. That’s a real conversation we need to have about race. That institution has shaped race relations in this country. We can’t bury or white wash the past by removing all elements of it. We need not glorify the men, but we do need to understand the history and work to ensure we correct the sins and errors of the past. We also, need to instruct on how their actions inform our lives now by including more into these monuments or parks. Rev William Mac Lee wrote this about his former owner.
I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.
We have an opportunity in these places where monuments reside to discuss the sins, the complexities, and all of the people impacted both past, present and future. There’s more than enough land there to introduce us to William Mac Lee and his descendants as they struggle to navigate the post Civil War South as well as understand the ways that Lee atoned and evolved.
Even statues of the nasty Nathan Bedford Forrest give us an opportunity to put a face and history on the horrible acts of the KKK including lynchings which were frequent and savage in many parts of our country. So, rather than just bury this history and these men, why not use the sites to explore the history of the lives they shaped? Lee became an advocate of black education even while maintaining the racist notions of the time that African Americans were savages that could eventually be brought to full status through education. That’s an attitude that needs elucidation because it still informs many in the South. I remember thinking of Lee when Barbara Bush made her pronouncement at the AstroDome on Katrina refuges. Forrest created the original domestic terrorist organization. How did these men take such different paths? How far have we come or not come since then?
So, in all of this call to bring down monuments, I hear no similar call to remove the statue of the genocidal Jackson that is also surrounded by enough land for us to be regaled not only with his victory at the Battle of New Orleans but his savage treatment of the Southern Tribes. The square could be used to connect the Jackson of Chalmette Battlefield to the Jackson of The Trail of Tears. For some reason, we seem incapable of grabbing teaching moments when they are upon us. But think, no one plowed under the major concentration camps and there are Holocaust Museums. They are are there for us to learn, understand, and evolve.
The SPLC has asked that holidays celebrated in the names of Jeff Davis and Robert E Lee be dropped. This is appropriate. It’s important to remove the glorification even while we search for deeper understanding of the acts, men, and history.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has launched an online petition asking that Alabama and four other states drop holidays honoring Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
“It’s time to stop the celebrations,” the petition says. “We should honor those who represent American ideals, not those who led the fight to preserve slavery.”
The other states listed are Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
The petition follows other calls to remove symbols honoring the Confederacy since the murders of nine African-American worshipers at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., two weeks ago.
Gov. Robert Bentley had Confederate flags removed from a monument on the north side of the state Capitol last week.
In Birmingham today, a city board voted to explore removal of a Confederate monument from Linn Park.
SPLC President Richard Cohen said it was a good time to act on the organization’s concerns about holidays honoring Confederate President Davis and Lee, the South’s top general.
“We thought that now, while the public is sensitive to these issues and in some sense has a broader understanding of the nature of these kinds of symbols, that it would be a good time to put this issue on the public agenda,” Cohen said.
He said the petition was a way to start conversation.
“Why we honor people who fought to preserve slavery is a question I think the public has to ask itself,” Cohen said.
Again, it is a completely different thing to revere or honor bad actors. So, I’m a firm advocate of museums, parks, and national historic sites that tell the full picture. I’m not in favor of glorification. Maybe, we should also have a conversation on the true stories behind the Thanksgiving myths eventually. Plus, some one needs to talk to Mitch Landrieu about Andrew Jackson. The man committed genocide plain and simple. But that’s enough from me!!!
Here’s a few interesting things that you might want to read today.
- The Donald is tanking the Trump brand–which is really the only true asset he’s had for some time–as both Serta and Macy’s dump the bloviating presidential candidate’s brands. It seems that each of the companies prefer a diverse customer and employee base to the old goon.
- The US Navy Yard was shutdown this morning as reports of an active shooter emerged. They were later found to be false but caused a noticeable panic in the area.
- Candidate Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds on the campaign trail much to the chagrin of the beltway punditry. After all, SOCIALIST!!!!!
- Here’s an interesting story on a charter school that actually embraced teacher unions which is a bit of an outlier for that business/education model.
So, that’s my thoughts and suggestions for today.
What’s on your reading and blogging list?