Three of New Orleans’ four contentious Confederate monuments have been spotted surrounded by derelict police cars, piles of old tires, and other assorted junk in a scrap yard in the neighborhood known as Desire.
The New Orleans Advocate reports that the statues of Jefferson Davis and PGT Beauregard are “sitting in an unlocked storage yard, next to piles of scrap.” Reporters for the Advocate believe the Battle of Liberty Place monument is also in the scrap yard, and that hunch appears to have been confirmed by Tyronne Walker, the city spokesman. Walker issued a statement that “the three confederate monuments that have been removed are in gated city facilities until a permanent location is determined where the statues can be placed in their full context.”
As for the current location of the Robert E. Lee statue, stay tuned.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has always said that the monuments would be placed “in storage.” It turns out “in storage” is an awfully imprecise phrase. There was a general impression — I had it myself — that the monuments would be out of sight in some warehouse. Think of it — if any defender of the monuments had declared that that the city government planned to dump the statues of Davis and Beauregard amid mounds of garbage, that poor soul would have been dismissed as a wild-eyed crank.
What pinheaded city bureaucrat approved the scrap yard? Could Landrieu’s administration have sent defenders of the monuments a clearer message of what he and his toadies think of them? And now New Orleans has on its hands a public relations nightmare.
Look, history is messy. And do you know why? Because people’s lives are messy. For instance, in South Dakota right now work crews are blasting away in the Black Hills to transform a mountain into a massive memorial to the Lakota chief, Crazy Horse. The TravelSouthDakota tourism website celebrates the monument-in-progress as an emblem of “a fervent legacy and a proud future.” We could pause here to discuss the choice of linking “fervent” with “legacy,” but let’s not.
Crazy Horse was a warrior and chief of the Lakota Sioux who battled settlers and troops who were undermining the tribe’s ancient way of life, seizing their lands, and trying to drive the Sioux onto reservations. Survey the history of whites and Indians in the Old West, and you’ll find that there are plenty of atrocities to go around, but let me just name two to which Crazy Horse is linked directly. In 1866, Crazy Horse lured Lt. Col. William J. Fetterman and 80 of his men into an ambush where Sioux warriors killed them all — the notorious Fetterman Massacre. In 1876, Crazy Horse, with Sitting Bull and Gall, led several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors against Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 263 men of the 7th Cavalry. The Indians wiped all the troopers and, after the battle, mutilated the bodies of many of the dead.
Moving a little closer to home, I have a project that will take me to the Schomburg Center in Harlem. It’s located on Malcolm X Boulevard. The street is named for a man who believed and taught that whites are inherently evil and violent by nature, while nature has endowed blacks with moral superiority. In other words, he was, to coin a phrase, “a black supremacist.” When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm X characterized the murder of the president as a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.”
Is the governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard, calling for the state government to dynamite the Crazy Horse memorial and return the mountain to its natural state? Is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio standing before a bank of microphones insisting that Malcolm X Boulevard must be renamed?
No. And I don’t think they should. There is no monument to any person or any event that does not have to some degree the element of proclaiming “us but not them.” There is no individual in human history who was not flawed, and often very deeply flawed. Except Jesus Christ. And we know what happens at Christmastime when someone wants to set up on public land a scene depicting his birth.