I'd rather look up to Allen Toussaint than a "Tricentennial." (Photo credit: Denis Alix)

New Orleans Monuments Should Honor Music and Culture

New Orleans hit the national news as a result of the Mayor and City Council’s decision to take down four monuments: three statues of Confederate heroes, and one dedicated to a white supremacist act. As the statues have been removed one by one, tempers have flared. One side wants to preserve “history”; the other side sees the statues’ removal as an act that was long overdue. Both sides are somewhat fanatical.

These monuments stood for years without generating a lot of controversy; but the renewed openness of white supremacists (an attitude that’s obviously been festering for a very long time among some groups in the US) has changed the dynamic. The straw that broke the camel’s back: a group of innocent churchgoers in Charleston were slaughtered by a white supremacist in their own church, and the entire country (at least those who aren’t believers in white supremacy) was outraged.

It took a modicum of courage for New Orleans politicians to do something about removing the statues, but in some ways it’s just a show and a great publicity stunt for the city. More of a reaction to a national discussion rather than a proactive measure. You have to applaud the motivation—assuming you agree with the removal of the monuments—but why wasn’t this done a long time ago? But at least our city leaders did something. Earlier this week, in a reaction to the anti-removal protests, the cowardly Louisiana House of Representatives passed a bill that requires a referendum—a vote of the people—for future monument removals. Not surprisingly, the Legislative Black Caucus walked out of the session. And so the divide continues between the races. Sad.

The first removal (of the Liberty Monument) wasn’t such a big controversy because it clearly glorified white supremacy. Of course, the monument had to be taken away in the dead of night by a heavily disguised company who was afraid of retribution from people who did not want the monument removed. “It’s part of our history,” they say. Indeed it is, but are we supposed to be proud of that?

The second removal was the statue of Jefferson Davis at Canal and Jeff Davis Parkway, which caused a lot more ruckus. I wonder, though, now that the monument is gone, if they’ll rename the street. I mean, if you can erase the monument, we should also have the option of renaming the street that has the same name. Or else, what’s the point?

Early this morning, the beautiful and iconic statue of P.G.T. Beauregard was removed from the circle in front of City Park.

Next up, the big magilla: Robert E. Lee’s statue that overlooks Lee Circle.

What disturbs me about all of this is the fight between the Confereracy-ites, or self-proclaimed history preservationists, and the people who demand that the statues be removed because they are offensive.

Well, they’ve been there for a really long time, but they only recently became offensive enough to have them removed. The decision to remove them I do understand, but it took a mass murder in Charleston to precipitate any action whatsoever. This all is a reaction.

I also have concerns with removing the monuments and not having a plan to replace them with something relevant and iconic. In a poll we conducted some time ago, we asked our readers what should happen to Lee Circle. Glen David Andrews, I believe, came up with the idea to rename it “Toussaint Circle” after Allen Toussaint (I like this idea a lot, and our readers concur…but what else would you ask music freaks to think?).

You must remember that Lee Circle was originally Tivoli Circle or Tivoli Place until 1884, when the statue of Lee was erected, so renaming a street feature isn’t that outrageous. I noticed that a portion of a couple of Central City street were recently renamed for pastors of churches in the area. Pastors? If a church pastor can be memorialized, why not a world-famous artist or musician?

I’ve heard that a name floating about for Lee Circle is “Tricentennial Circle,” which I think is just about the lamest idea ever, and just sounds like a means to pump the city’s Tricentennial in 2018 (who cares after 2018?). If we’re going to rename our streets and monuments, for goodness’ sake, let’s give them a name that will be recognizable the world over, have some serious longevity, mean something to everyone everywhere and that will give kudos to important New Orleanians who have produced our unique, world-renowned music and culture.

We already have an Armstrong Park and the Louis Armstrong International Airport. So Louis is taken care of. What about Allen Toussaint? Fats Domino? Sidney Bechet? Or how about something as simple as “Jazz Place” with a monument to important local jazz musicians in place of Jefferson Davis’ monument?

How about Danny Barker Avenue? Gottschalk Way? Professor Longhair Boulevard? Louis Prima Street? Jelly Roll Morton Avenue? Earl King? Or even erecting monuments to the Marsalis or Neville families? Or if you want to get literary about it, how about Tennessee Williams or Lafcadio Hearn?

Honor our world-famous culture, not military or politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

  • George Gerhold

    There is already a Louis Prima Drive and Louis Prima Court in New Orleans East off Lake Forrest Blvd. I like the idea of Toussaint Circle.

    • Terry

      if they’d put Lee Dorsey up on that pedestal where R. E. was, they wouldn’t have to rename the circle

  • JazzLunatique

    Like has been said before, put a statue of Lee Dorsey and Lee Allen on the pedestal for Lee Circle, and then no addresses or street names need to be changed.
    Celebrating cultural figures is a great idea.

    • Mark Fowler

      And add Leigh Harris.

    • George Gerhold

      Lee Allen was born in Kansas.

  • Michelle Bushey

    How about Walter Wolfman Washington???

  • Dotty McKinnon

    Jan, if you want to start a group/committee to start compiling an appropriate list of honorees and figure out a way to pay/raise money to pay for statues/plaques, etc, sign me up!

  • Beth

    No monuments should be put anywhere. We don’t know what could possibly offend people in the future and I would hate to tear the city apart again. Any money needs to be spent on infrastructure and education or we won’t have a city. As much as I would like Radiator circle, or Toussaint Square, music may be offensive in 133 years.

  • Modern Virtuoso

    Love your suggestions!

  • Harvey Pekoe

    Please, NOT a statue honoring Wynton Marsalis. What a huge, obnoxious ego.