I see all these live video feeds of Lee Circle, and I’m skipping right over them. I can’t watch. I won’t watch the desecration of a historical monument that has helped give the City of New Orleans yet another layer of many that form an intricate narrative of diversity.
I have loved New Orleans ever since my first visit nearly 30-years ago. So much so, that every time Sharon and I go, we inevitably start looking at apartment listings.
I’ve always appreciated that I could walk amidst such discordance and seemingly conflicting reminders and feel at ease with all of its representations, and all of the people that it represented.
Sharon and I purchased several antique pieces of furniture years ago on Royal St. I didn’t have a truck at the time so we asked my Mom and Dad to go with us in his truck, have lunch and then go pick up the purchased items.
I’ll never forget the sight of my mother standing in a crowd of people at the corner of Decatur and St. Peter with teeth clinched because a nearly 7-foot tall guy in army fatigues and sporting a wild mohawk stepped up next to her awaiting the crosswalk. He had a huge live rat sitting on his shoulder just a foot or two from my Mom’s face.
You never knew what or who you were going to see because NOLA accepted everybody. And if you were there you either dealt with that fact or you pouted about it. But NOLA was NOLA, and wasn’t apologizing for it.
The city has proven that there will be no redemption for those who fought to defend their homes and who, many conscience-stricken, accepted positions of leadership in the Confederate States. The overzealous prosecution of individuals of whom the present day persecutors know less than a small sliver about, 150-plus years removed from their time and place, has proven there is no intent to allow history to simply be what it is.
What will the perpetually offended find to remove next? Will they keep going until they’ve turned the character of NOLA into the same indistinguishable cookie-cutter destination as 100 other cities? Will this identity politics run amuck decide then to begin dismantling small towns and rural areas, too?
Political progressives will call this innovative and forward thinking. But when all historical example is removed, how will future generations know which way is forward and which way is backward?
There’s an old saying that beauty is only skin-deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. This reaction isn’t about beauty, nor innovation or forward thinking. It’s ugly and it’s backward. It’s vengeance from those who have no claim to be vengeful about. These are ignorant people who want to stay that way.
What of the power of redemption?
Consider the life of Confederate Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was also the first grand wizard of the KKK. As might be expected, his memory and any reference to him has also been under fire lately. His portrait was removed a year ago from a Forrest County office building in Hattiesburg, and the Memphis, TN City Council even voted to have his body dug up and a statue of him removed from that city.
Yet in 1875, after leaving violence in his wake for much of his life and two years before his final breath, Forrest was invited to address a meeting of one of the earliest black civil rights organizations in Memphis that would eventually go on to become the NAACP.
Here is what he told the crowd of black citizens gathered there to hear him that day:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the Southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man, to depress none.
I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.”
Where is this tidbit of history in our current conversation? Delegated to the trash bin. It doesn’t fit the narrative. It confuses the senses of those who want to blame, label and deceive.
History, like society and the economy is far too complex to fit within the box that silly and childishly simple thinking is trying to build to contain it.
Is the public knowledge of complexity and diversity so lacking that many believe ignoring what isn’t appreciated will make it go away?
Lies don’t ever become truths. They become fantasies that trap people in degrading cycles of self-loathing, self-pity, excuses and blame.
If a statue, or for that matter a flag, shuts down your individual tenacity and progress then you really haven’t got much a chance of providing anything meaningful to the world anyway.