New Orleans Shows the Better Way to Resolve the Issue of Confederate Monuments on Public Property

by johndavis, August 17, 2017

New Orleans Shows the Better Way to Resolve the Issue of Confederate Monuments on Public Property August 17, 2017        Vol. X, No. 7        2:13 pm Locally, airing opposing views, and in accordance with the law The issue of what to do with North Carolina’s Confederate monuments is a matter that must only be answered locally,
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New Orleans Shows the Better Way to Resolve the Issue of Confederate Monuments on Public Property

August 17, 2017        Vol. X, No. 7        2:13 pm

Locally, airing opposing views, and in accordance with the law

The issue of what to do with North Carolina’s Confederate monuments is a matter that must only be answered locally, city by city, “in accordance with the law,” by way of a process that recognizes and respects opposing views.  Otherwise, we risk more of the destruction of monuments and the disfiguring of statues, as we have seen in Durham, or the violence we saw in Charlottesville.

It is a mistake for our statewide politicians, including our Democratic governor and our Republican state legislature, to force how local communities resolve this matter.  If the governor and legislature want to provide leadership on the issue, they need to call a Special Session and pass a bipartisan model process for how each city in North Carolina can resolve the issue of Confederate monuments locally.

The primary reason we need a sensible process for to how to resolve the issue of Confederate monuments locally is because too many people on all sides think that their moral authority on racially sensitive issues is so absolute that it warrants the dismissiveness of other views.  That it justifies the enforcement of their views on everyone else.

Far too many of us … including many in the university community, rural conservative Southerners, members of the news media, liberal elites clustered in big cities and elected officials in both parties … bask in an air of righteous dismissiveness, especially on matters of racially sensitive issues.

That’s why, after considering the lawlessness in Charlottesville and Durham over the issue of Confederate monuments, I would like to recommend a more civil model … the way the City of New Orleans resolved the issue after decades of anger, anxiety, anticipation, humiliation and frustration … as detailed in a speech delivered on May 23, 2017 by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Mayor Landrieu tells of how the “full weight of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government” was brought to bear on the matter, including public hearings, three separate community-led commissions, a 6-1 City Council vote, and the opinions of 13 different federal and state judges.  He relates how one of the most compelling questions the people of New Orleans had to answer was, How do we explain to our children why Robert E. Lee stands atop of our beautiful city?

Most importantly, Landrieu tells the story of how the issue of Confederate monuments in New Orleans was resolved locally with respect for all sides and “in accordance with the law.”

That’s what our cities and state must do in North Carolina. Public hearings. Community-led commissions. City council votes. Judicial review, federal and state.

It’s difficult because it’s personal

I am a son of the South, with ancestors who owned slaves and fought in the Civil War.  In my youth and young adulthood, I have stood with reverence before Confederate monuments and with respectful admiration before the graves of my ancestors who fought for what they believed at that time was right.

But then I became a father of the South, and I grew to realize that my Confederate ancestors were also fighting for the right of states to maintain an economic system based on slave labor.  For a right that we all now recognize as inhumane.  A right that was wrong.

Now, I am a grandfather of the South, with six wonderful grandchildren, including an African American granddaughter.  What do I say to them in defense of Confederate monuments in the highest places of public honor?  What would I say about those monuments in a museum?

Should all Confederate monuments be put in museums?  What if the city is the site of a famous Civil War battle?  Is the city square the museum?  In the context of local Civil War history, can a city be a museum?

Whatever we do, North Carolinians must wrestle for themselves locally with questions like those as well as like the one the people of New Orleans had to answer, How do we explain to our children why Confederate monuments stand atop our beautiful cities?

Per Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina, under the auspices of the UNC-Chapel Hill Library, there are over 200 Civil War memorials, statues and historical markers in our state.  We have over 50 statues, most honoring the Confederacy.  That’s why we must embrace a more civil way to consider their removal “in accordance with the law,” and in recognition of and respect for all opinions.

Otherwise, we will be trying to explain to our children and grandchildren why our own self-righteousness on racially sensitive matters led to our dismissiveness of the opinions of those who disagree with us and ultimately to more of the lawlessness like in Charlottesville and Durham.

Governor Cooper and the Republican leaders in the legislature need to call a Special Session to pass a bipartisan model process for how each city can resolve the issue of Confederate monuments.

 

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