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Monument drama continues in wake of removal project

30th May 2017   ·   0 Comments

The political drama and controversy surrounding the removal of four Confederate-era monuments from public spaces across the City of New Orleans continues despite the completion of the statue-removal project on May 19.

While some monument supporters still hope that the Battle of Liberty Place monument and statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee could be returned to their places of honor across the city, at least one Mississippi lawmaker had harsh words for Louisiana elected officials who allowed the historical monuments to be taken down and a battle appears to be brewing between New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser

Nungesser, the former president of Plaquemines Parish, met Monday with Landrieu to talk about finding a permanent home for the four Confederate-era monuments. He had previously expressed an interesting in placing them in various state parks across Louisiana.

It soon became clear that at the meeting did not go as smoothly as Nungesser would have liked.

“I know it belongs to the city of New Orleans, but it also belongs to the people of Louisiana and it also has historical value,” Nungesser told WWL News. “Good or bad, it has value. And where do we stop? Where do we stop taking down monuments and things even though some of the history is bad history? We can’t continue to destroy history.”

Even though Nungesser’s efforts to enlist the help of President Donald Trump and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office to block the removal of the monuments were unsuccessful, he hopes the State Legislature will make it possible for the monuments to remain in the state.

“I just want to do the right thing with them,” Nungesser told WWL. “I feel strongly that those people that want to preserve these monuments have the best interest in preserving history.”

The City of New Orleans has initiated a bidding process that allows various entities to bid on the Liberty Place, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee monuments while ownership issues for the P.G.T. Beauregard monument are being worked out between the City and the City Park Improvement Association.

In the meantime the monuments are being stored in a fenced lot that is owned by the city.

WWL News reported that the selection process would require public bids only, and nonprofit and public entities can only submit their request. They must be displayed in historical context and cannot be displayed outdoors on public property in Orleans Parish.

With public funds scarce, Nungesser said the legislature will most likely turn to private donors to help raise the funds to bid on the statues. The lieutenant governor said that he is concerned that someone may make a high bid in the interest of seeing the statues destroyed, hidden or tucked away on private property for their own financial interests.

“If somebody turns in a high-dollar bid and the decision is made to give (the monuments) to someone who doesn’t have the same objective as myself, and the people concerned about preserving the monuments in some fashion, then it’s out of our hands,” Nungesser said.

After Mondays meeting, the Mayor’s Office said in a statement that it welcomed Nungesser’s input but will follow through with the bid-selection process it has set in motion.

“The Lieutenant Governor asked that we simply give him the monuments to run a process of his own,” the statement said. “I welcomed the Lieutenant Governor to be a part of the RFP process we have outlined and look forward to getting formal ideas the State has to share about how to place the Confederate statues in proper historical context.”

Nungesser worries though, that the City’s interest may not be the same as Louisiana’s.

“Obviously, the mayor expressed that it’s the city’s decision, it’s their monuments, but it’s been expressed that the city doesn’t want them. So, if we’re going to take them outside the city, I hope … we put them in the best place to preserve history,” Nungesser said. “I’m a little concerned that what might be best for the city of New Orleans might not be best for the historical preservation of Louisiana.”

Black lawmakers are calling for the resignation of Mississippi State Rep. Karl Oliver after the Republican lawmaker said Louisiana leaders should be “lynched” for removing the four Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans.

“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific,” Oliver wrote. “If the, and I use this term extremely loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED! Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our State.”

Oliver made his comments on Facebook on Saturday, May 20, a day after the City of New Orleans took down the Robert E. Lee monument. He apologized and removed the post on Monday.

“I acknowledge the word ‘lynched’ was wrong,” Oliver said in his public apology. “I am very sorry. It is in no way, ever, appropriate term.”

“Rep. Oliver’s apology for using the word ‘lynching’ does not mitigate the sentiment behind the statement and his presence will continue to be a sore spot on the work of the Mississippi Legislature,” State Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, told The Associated Press.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told The AP Tuesday that she wants the state House Ethics Committee to investigate Oliver.

“There is no question about the nature of lynching,” Riley-Collins said. “Blacks were beaten and then hung from trees until their necks were broken or they choked to death, while whites watched, many times in a picnic atmosphere.”

Oliver, a funeral director and first-term lawmaker, represents a district that includes Money, Miss., the town where Black Chicago teenager Emmett Till was kidnapped, beaten and lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman in a store in 1955.

Just weeks after a substitute teacher at Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans lost his job after he was videotaped repeatedly using the N-word and getting into an argument with a Black student, the principal of a majority-Black alternative high school in New Orleans was told to leave campus after a photo of him standing near the Robert E. Lee statue near a Confederate flag was circulated on social media.

Crescent Leadership Academy Supt. Tracey Bennett-Joseph confirmed Monday that Principal Nicholas Dean was removed from his post pending an investigations by the school’s management.

“With the recent events in the city it is important that this matter is thoroughly reviewed,” Bennett-Joseph said.

“I didn’t go to protest for either side,” Dean said last week. “I went because I am a historian, educator and New Orleans resident who wanted to observe this monumental event.

“People who know me know that I am a crusader for children and I fight tirelessly on their behalf.

Bennett-Joseph said the investigation would likely take a week or two, but Dean was fired after a YouTube video captured images of him wearing a ring symbolizing white supremacy and Nazism.

“Nicholas Dean will not return as the principal or be associated with Crescent Leadership Academy,” the school’s board wrote in a statement. “We will continue to work in the best interest of all students and cannot further comment on employment matters.”

“The children of New Orleans should be able to trust that educators value their humanity, respect them as individuals, and will treat them with a sense of fairness and equality,” Recovery School District Superintendent Kunjan Narechania said in a prepared statement. ‘Educators are role models, and they should prioritize this sacred role above all else. Any educator who is unwilling to prioritize and respect the humanity of all children has no place in schools.

“While the circumstances surrounding this decision are regrettable and damaging, I appreciate the board making a swift decision so that school can move forward and so that our community can continue to heal,” Narechania continued.

Last week a group that calls itself The Real Meow Meow Liberation Front took credit for vandalizing a grant monument in Mid-City that honors a Confederate-era poet-priest.

On Wednesday, the group published an image of the spray-painted Father Abram Ryan monument on a blog called “It’s Going Down,” a site that describes itself as an anonymous outlet for groups with “anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements” to “publicize and promote revolutional theory and action.”

The monument of Father Ryan, a poet and chaplain of the South during the Civil War, was erected in 1949 by the Louisiana Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Located in the 400 block of Jefferson Davis Parkway, the monument captures the image of a furled Confederate flag and includes the following inscription: “Furl that banner for ‘tis weary, Round its staff tis dropping dreary, Furl it, Fold it — Let it rest!”

The Landrieu administration said last week that it is working to tally up the costs associated with the statue-removal project.

Landrieu said in April that the City of New Orleans had raised the funds needed to finish the project from private donations but that was before the City determined that it needed to take additional steps to ensure the safety of presidents and workers.

“We’re absolutely going to be doing a full accounting of all the costs, both public and private, in the next several days,” Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said Monday.

On Thursday, Take ‘Em Down Nola held a press conference during which it called on the Landrieu administration to finish the job with regard to removing offensive monuments, symbols and street names and school names from the city’s public buildings and spaces.

The group said it is mindful of the fact that the people of New Orleans will elect a new mayor this fall but pressed for the Landrieu administration to move forward with plans to establish a committee or panel to address offensive monuments, memorials, school names and street names across the city.

This article originally published in the May 29, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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