A prominent local businessman, Frank Stewart – who literally made his money from death – was the most vocal monument supporter, tangling with Mayor Landrieu through a series of interviews and full-page ads. He is a die-hard fan of the Confederacy and Robert E. Lee whose sense of history is steeped in Lost Cause mythology. He also seems to think that these monuments (and, in fact, all racial tension) were not problems until Mitch Landrieu’s term.
Despite his interest in this topic, he is neither a historian nor represents any particular group. He is just an old rich man that people have decided to take seriously despite saying things like this:
How deep into the abyss of the Lost Cause do you have to be to believe this? To demand a newspaper publish it? To think this would persuade anyone? And this is who we are to trust to contextualize monuments?
There is no defense for this. It is historically, factually, morally wrong. It is horrifying.
(It also fails Louisiana’s Grade 7 social studies standards. We shudder to think what the state’s textbooks said about the Civil War when Frank was in middle school.)
The monuments have nothing to do with slavery. And anyone who knows history can tell you right now that the people featured on these monuments are people who really made a dent in the country we love. They are wonderful people…
We suppose that you can describe the Civil War, which killed close to a million people, as ‘making a dent’ in America.
But if you think Frank Stewart might have a better understanding of more recent and more local history – you’re wrong!
Stewart apparently missed the renaming of New Orleans’ schools in the 1980s and has no recollection of the removal of the Liberty Place monument under Mayor Sidney Barthelemy. ‘Monument defenders’ like to pretend that no one cared about these statues until recently as a way to cast removal as some sudden, political desire instead of a step in a long-running effort.
Just as the Lost Cause relies on a tranquil antebellum South to hide the inhumanity of slavery, Stewart invents a peaceful, racially-harmonious New Orleans anteLandrieum to blame Mitch for what has always lurked under the surface.
Side note: The US Conference of Mayors is not a way to make yourself a national figure.
At the same MTC meeting, Stewart expanded on Mitch’s role in creating racism:
…there are some people who want – like Mitch made them – make the monuments a symbol of slavery, of discrimination, of segregation, of white supremacy – Mitch made these monuments represent that. That is not true and that is not correct and these monuments are personal memorials….”
Again, New Orleans literally had a monument to white supremacy. It’s telling that Stewart, along with other pro-monument people, forget about the Liberty Place monument. Was it not also a ‘personal memorial’ to the White League? (The White League included, unsurprisingly, the future head of the committee that erected Lee and the mayor of New Orleans that accepted Lee’s statue. Just a fun coincidence!) Their silence on the Liberty Place obelisk is what happens when a dogwhistle becomes a shout.
In arguing against their removal in 2017, Stewart makes an excellent point for our situation in 2018: what was the reason for declaring these statues “at odds with the message of equal rights under the law” – as Mayor Cantrell and five other councilmembers did – if we allow them to be re-erected somewhere else?