The New Orleans Times-Picayune posted a story yesterday (updated today) about the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis from the monument site on Canal Street at Jefferson Davis Parkway. That is so sad. Jefferson Davis was a Democratic U.S. Representative and Senator from Mississippi, the 23rd U.S. Secretary of War, and the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He is guilty of doing what he thought was right and what the people of his state thought was right. We are wrong to judge him in the context of today rather than the context of the time in which he lived.
Admittedly, slavery was a horrible thing, but it was a worldwide acceptable practice at the time. Jefferson Davis was guilty of complying with the norms of society at the time. It is unfair to judge him by today’s standards. Slavery is part of America’s history, just as it is a part of the history of most of the countries in the world. Unfortunately, there are countries where it is still practiced today.
The article quotes a resident who came to watch the statue being removed:
Pat Gallagher, who lives in Jefferson Parish, said she decided to go out to the intersection because she is concerned about the preservation of all monuments, both Confederate and others.
“I think it’s a slippery slope,” she said of taking down monuments. “It’s part of history — whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. You can’t change history.”
She expressed a special concern for monuments to those who served in the military, ticking off a list of wars and battles in which she said her ancestors have served, beginning with one who fought at Valley Forge and continuing through the Battle of New Orleans, the Civil War, World War II and a nephew now stationed in Afghanistan.
“This is about monuments to military men who fought for their country,” she said. “This is very personal for me. That’s why I’m here — to stand up for my ancestors — all of them.”
“I’m getting sick at heart because they’re getting ready to take this down,” she said, tearing up.
The article includes a statement by the Mayor:
“There are four prominent monuments in question. The Battle of Liberty Place monument, which was removed three weeks ago, was erected by the Crescent City White League to remember the deadly insurrection led by white supremacists against the City’s racially integrated police department and government. The statue coming down today is the Jefferson Davis statue on Jefferson Davis Parkway. The statues slated to come down next include the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Circle and the P.G.T. Beauregard equestrian statue on Esplanade Avenue at the entrance to City Park.
“‘Three weeks ago, we began a challenging but long overdue process of removing four statues that honor the ‘Lost Cause of the Confederacy.’ Today we continue the mission,’ said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. ‘These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it. I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future. We should not be afraid to confront and reconcile our past.'”
This is the sort of thing that happens in third-world countries. I would ask those who see these monuments as a celebration of slavery that need to be removed, what other parts of our history do you want to remove? We can’t change history because we did something that was acceptable at the time that we now realize was wrong. We need to look at the monuments in the context of the time they were erected and realize that we have grown since then. The monuments should be a reminder that even good men make mistakes. As I said, slavery was a worldwide, accepted practice. The fact that those in the southern states wanted to continue it and expand the territory it was allowed in is a reflection of the culture they lived in. We need to understand that despite the fact that slavery and the Civil War represent a very dark period in American history, they are both part of our history. These statues represent that history and need to be left alone.