New Orleans recently, under the cover of darkness, removed several confederate statues. Apparently they had become an unwelcome symbol of the ugly past of slavery. But removing statues is not the way to deal with history, and the mayor of New Orleans has blown an opportunity to use these symbols of the past as an educational tool rather than just an outdated modern symbol of a segregated past.
The first thing that must be recognized is that confederate symbols are still venerated by some folks. You are welcome to make your own determination as to whether that’s wrong or right, moral or immoral in our modern society. But getting rid of symbols, especially those which may have importance to a segment of the population, is not the right way to deal with issues of racism. You will never win an argument by trying to change the past. You can’t begin to change a person’s mind about an issue simply by taking away symbols which are important to them. All you are creating is more animosity and less understanding. The mayor missed a wonderful teaching opportunity. History is to be embraced in order to be understood. You don’t have to love or agree with the actions of history in order to learn from it.
So what should the mayor of New Orleans have done if he wanted to bring attention to the underlying issues that these statues represent? I have a few suggestions:
- Art – Yes, how about a summer art display about black involvement in the Civil War around the statue of Andrew Jackson.
- Drama – Commission a drama troupe to produce new works on Jim Crow and have summer performances around the statues
- Writing Contests – Sponsor writing contests on themes of race, segregation, the civil rights movement in which a part of their writing has to connect to the statues around town.
- Ceremony – Have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in the backdrop of one of the statues to talk about related themes, victories, hardships, and current issues.
- Placards – Create educational placards at the statues that talk about the good and the bad related to the person memorialized. Don’t demonize the good, but don’t whitewash the bad. Use it to educate others about different times, different points of views, and as a reminder of how far we have come.
Now, I thought of these ideas in about five minutes, and I’m sorry Mayor Landrieu, but all of them, in my opinion, are far better than trying to whitewash history by removing statues in the dead of the night.