The Day They Tore Ol' General Lee Down

General Lee being knocked off his pedestal. (Scott Threlkeld/AP)

General Lee being knocked off his pedestal. (Scott Threlkeld/AP)

I was in New Orleans last week, and apparently there was this controversial Thing, where the city had decided to knock down some dusty ass monuments that had been erected to individuals that committed treason and promulgated terrorist acts right here in the USA.  In-fucking-sane, right?!  First, that these things were placed in a position of prominence, and then that when sanity prevailed, that there would be any sort of controversy involved in taking them down.  These were monuments to m'fuckas that literally fought against this country -- like, literally -- and they killed people.  Like, literally.  And the city of New Orleans was like 'well, hell -- these guys need to be celebrated!  Let's put them on pedestals in squares across the city!'  Like, literally.

Astounding.  At least until I clarify that these were monuments to White terrorists of an era that too many in this country think of as being sadly bygone instead of righteously buried by the sands of time.  Now that we know the color of these terrorists, we are no longer surprised to hear that the decision to remove these artifacts of a more openly, opulently racist time was met with controversy, intellectually lazy protest, and indescribable foolishness

So many idiots out there invoking "history" or "southern heritage" in their defense of the indefensible.  I was on a cheesy tourist bus when we circled the monument to Robert E. Lee, his stony visage glaring haughtily down from his 60 foot tall perch, looking like he wished he could still will his frozen lips to call me a nigger.  The tour guide mentioned that this would be General Lee's last day on his pedestal, and some idiot in back of me booed his removal.  My head whipped around of its own accord and I fixed a glare on the woman, who immediately stopped and couldn't hold my gaze... Though she got the ovaries up to boo again moments later in a softer tone that she clearly hoped I could not hear.  Since I did hear, I loudly said to my husband, "Are people seriously booing the removal of a treasonous terrorist from a position of prominence in this city?"  Another brave White soul in back of me whispered "But it's history."  Oh yes, history, that old intellectually lazy argument, typically used by those who do not want to admit their racism.  So let's talk about that.

Arlington National Cemetery, former home of General Robert E. Lee which the federal government turned into a cemetery. (Wikipedia)

Arlington National Cemetery, former home of General Robert E. Lee which the federal government turned into a cemetery. (Wikipedia)

Let's talk about the fact that this statue wasn't erected during the Civil War, when it might have made at least a tiny bit of sense to put the damn thing up.  No, it was conceived during Reconstruction, an era that also saw the great expansion of the KKK, and it was placed there for much the same reason.  To intimidate former slaves and their descendants and to serve as a reminder that Black folks should always fear.  The statue was elevated so that we must always look up to it.  It was gargantuan in its proportions, turning Lee into a larger than life, imposing figure.  He was placed facing the north, so that he could always glare in the direction of his enemies, arms folded over his chest in defiance.  This was not just history.  This was a symbol when it was erected, and it remained one until the day it was removed.  So fuck that noise.  Now if you really want to consider the opinions of people that were actual contemporaries of Lee, let me remind you that the federal government gave so few fucks about this dude that they confiscated his home in Arlington, Virginia and turned it into the military cemetery that we know today.  Savage.  Arlington National Cemetery?  Yeah, that's where General Lee used to call home.  So don't talk to me about history, or judging people by modern standards, or whatever other BS White Supremacy is currently using in an attempt to justify keeping this stuff around. 

Geechee Anne cheering the removal of Lee's statue.  (Google Images)

Geechee Anne cheering the removal of Lee's statue.  (Google Images)

The next day I rode a different cheesy tourist bus down the same route through New Orleans, and watched as cranes surrounded the stone figure of General Robert E. Lee, ready to topple him from his lofty pedestal.  On this bus, the racial mix was different, and a feeling of excitement was in the air as the tour guide explained what was happening.  Gleefully, we Brown and Black folks watched, hoping to get a glimpse of the actual removal, some of us disregarding safety to lean our bodies off of the top of the bus in an effort to get a snapshot of the actual moment.  My husband and I smiled our quiet satisfaction, and clasped hands, savoring the moment together. 

The day after this we boarded the last cheesy tourist bus of our stay in New Orleans.  This time as we passed the monument there was nothing at all at the top of the pedestal.  Nothing but a blank space, which our tour guide did not feel the need to draw attention to.  The city has not yet explained what they will do with these spaces; there are 3 more empty monuments across the city and there has been talk of replacing the offensive statues with something or someone more meaningful to the city, such as a statue of Louis Armstrong.  I would argue that Armstrong deserves his own, unsullied monument and not the tainted seconds of a place once dedicated to the promotion of hate and White Supremacy.  The site now sits empty and barren, its place of honor left void and scarred from the removal of what should never have been there in the first place.  Seems fitting to me.