Cities Re-examine Their Confederate Icons

Lee Circle in New Orleans, Florida

Lee Circle in New Orleans, Florida Daniel Lobo / Flickr.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“It is not only time for a reappraisal of all public symbols that reflect upon the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery, but also time for removal.”

First went the Confederate battle flags in states like Alabama, following the Charleston church shooting, and then specialty vanity plates with the image in Georgia, Virginia and Maryland.

Now a U.S. representative’s letter to St. Louis’ mayor urging the removal of a Confederate memorial from the city’s Forest Park has state and local officials asking if more should be done to eradicate iconography associated with hate.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay wrote to Mayor Francis Slay:

It is not only time for a reappraisal of all public symbols that reflect upon the “peculiar institution” of slavery, but also time for removal. Symbols associated with this country’s racist, oppressive past should not be elevated or displayed in public places.

The 32-foot-tall granite memorial depicts “The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy” and was gifted by the Daughters of the Confederacy of St. Louis in 1914. Someone recently spraypainted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” near the base in protest.

Columnist David Brooks recently made a case for removing Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s name from institutions like schools and roads, “where the name could be seen as acceptance of what he did and stood for during the war.”

Though a gentleman who disliked slavery, Brooks wrote, Lee’s wartime actions were treasonous and did nothing to oppose the institution:

Racism is not just a personal prejudice and an evolutionary byproduct. It resurfaces year after year because it’s been woven by historical events into the fabric of American culture.
That culture is transmitted through the generations by the things we honor or don’t honor, by the symbols and names we celebrate and don’t celebrate. If we want to reduce racism, we have to elevate the symbols that signify the struggle against racism and devalue the symbols that signify its acceptance.

Brooks remains in favor of keeping Lee’s name attached to institutions reflecting his postwar service like Washington and Lee University, where he was president, and is also fine with preserving Confederate memorials honoring common soldiers.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants the name of the city’s Robert E. Lee Park changed, while Organize Now launched a petition to move the Confederate soldier memorial in Orlando, Florida’s Lake Eola Park to a museum.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently announced a discussion to replace the city’s Lee Circle statue as part of his broader racial reconciliation initiative.

"Symbols really do matter," Landrieu told The Times-Picayune. "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."

The larger national dialogue on the appropriateness of Confederate symbolism isn’t stopping Orange, Texas, from allowing the state’s Sons of Confederate Veterans to erect a monument complete with 32 Confederate flags along Interstate 10 from Louisiana.

There’s no plan for a large unveiling anytime soon though.

“We’re not looking for a lot of pomp and circumstance,” SCV spokesman Marshall Davis told The Daily Beast. “We just want to honor our ancestors and heroes.”

(Photo by Daniel Lobo / Flickr.com)

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.
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