By Kamau Odinga
It has been brought to my attention that some members of the Parish Council have expressed an interest in introducing into our parish the Confederate Civil War Monuments soon to be discarded by the City of New Orleans.
The idea seems to be that by way of resolution the Council would request these monuments for the purpose of incorporating them into a proposed Veterans Memorial Park on Dufrene Boulevard, if ever this park becomes a reality.
These monuments consists of a Statute of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a Statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, an equestrian statute of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and an obelisk commemorating the 1874 White League’s attempted overthrow of New Orleans racially integrated government.
The question befuddles the mind. Why at a time in our history when cities like New Orleans and states like South Carolina are shedding the base baggage of history and embracing 21st century sensibilities, are some members of our political leadership clinging to 19th century stagnation? Why would we pollute our Parish with the odious politics of the past? Why dump the dust bin of history on St. Charles Parish? Why make the Parish the waste storage site of foul, failed, historical concepts? Why go out of our way to make ourselves the laughing stock of the world? Disturbing and divisive monuments of an unpleasant past would best be allowed to rest peacefully in the dustbin of history.
If placed in museums, these monuments could serve an historical role. However, they do us no good when displayed in public places of honor and reverence. Esteemed members of our distinguished Council there is a better way forward.
If there be need for public monuments, let the monuments that we choose to display speak to our courage to heal and our capacity for reconciliation; exemplified by President Abraham Lincoln. Let them represent honor and dignity to a fallen foe; demonstrated by General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Let our monuments speak of one who would leave a life of privilege and end his days in a mass grave with the formerly enslaved; Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts. Let our monuments remind us of a strong adherence to and courageous application of the highest standards of jurisprudence; as practiced by New Orleans born, Judge John Minor Wisdom, eminent, Jurist of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And finally, let our monuments proclaim the unquenchable thirst of the enslaved to be free; let’s look no further than the River Parishes for the vision and organizational skills of Charles Deslondes and his fellow enslaved participants in conducting the 1811 Slave Revolt.
If ever the proposed Veterans Memorial Park becomes a viable project, I respectfully offer for your consideration that the following statutes and an obelisk be commissioned and prominently installed on the site:
A statute of President Abraham Lincoln, statute of General Ulysses S. Grant, statute of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, statute of Judge John Minor Wisdom and an obelisk dedicated to the 1811 Slave Revolt.
I am of the opinion that the statutes and obelisk offered for your consideration would enhance the proposed park and attract visitors, national and international, to the Parish.
On this first day of African American History Month, February 1st 2016, I was moved to bear witness to the reoccurrence of concepts and mindsets once thought debunked and thus pen this letter.
Guided by my people’s unshakable confidence, that one day this nation will live up to the principles enshrined in its most cherished documents, I close with the concluding words of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”