The Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission could take a lesson from the New Orleans City Council, which voted 6-1 in December to remove four prominent monuments to the Confederacy and racial segregation.
An AP story published in cnsnews.com provides the details. Slated for removal are public statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The fourth monument is a memorial to the Crescent City White League, a white supremacist paramilitary group that led an armed rebellion against New Orleans’ Post Civil War Reconstruction government. (Federal courts already have ordered its removal.)
The statue of General Lee is one of the city’s most prominent monuments. Dedicated in 1884, the 16-foot statue sits atop a 60-foot marble column. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Wikipedia.
In Minnesota, we are in the middle of a similar debate — what to do with art in the State Capitol which displays the values of Manifest Destiny and paints a vision of racial superiority? Some major pieces of art portray Native Americans as savage and tell a one-sided story of our state’s history.
The following statement by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, reported in the NOLA Defender, also is apt for Minnesota’s debate:
“Symbols really do matter. Symbols should reflect who we really are as a people…[the time has come to] replace divisive monuments and symbols with ones that reflect unity, hope, and our bright future as a city.”
In New Orleans, opponents to the statues’ removal already have mounted a legal challenge in federal court. Critics of the City Council’s decision are using arguments that we have heard locally regarding Minnesota’s Capitol art. In New Orleans, some say they need to preserve the city’s “historic landscape”. (That is said as if “historic landscape” is the ultimate trump card overriding all other civic values.) Further, they “want the council to consider alternatives, including erecting other monuments to tell a wider narrative about the Civil War.”
Both the New Orleans and Minnesota should preserve their historic art, add better interpretation, and tell “a wider narrative” with new art. That is not the question. The question for both locations is what legitimacy and place of honor the offensive art should receive.
In New Orleans, they estimate the cost of removing the monuments at $170,000. News reports say an anonymous donor has offered to pay for the work. I bet we could find private funding for a similar undertaking in Minnesota.
Here is a short news video of the New Orleans City Council debate from NBC.
This Day in History: The Largest Mass Execution in U.S. History
On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hung in Mankato, the largest execution in U.S. history. The hangings took place in the aftermath of the Dakota-U.S. War. Carol Chomsky, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota Law School, gives the following analysis, quoted in the website usdakotawar.org:
The trials of the Dakota were conducted unfairly in a variety of ways. The evidence was sparse, the tribunal was biased, the defendants were unrepresented in unfamiliar proceedings conducted in a foreign language, and authority for convening the tribunal was lacking. More fundamentally, neither the Military Commission nor the reviewing authorities recognized that they were dealing with the aftermath of a war fought with a sovereign nation and that the men who surrendered were entitled to treatment in accordance with that status.