For almost 30 years, McGraw has spent "thousands of dollars of my own money and hundreds of hours of my time cleaning, repairing and restoring the majority of monuments in this beautiful city."
As a preservationist and monument expert, McGraw is at the forefront of an effort to battle Mayor Mitch Landrieu's plans to remove the monuments. While Landrieu believes the Confederate monuments display racism, white supremacy and slavery, McGraw views them as "priceless works of art."
By pushing for monument removal in the aftermath of a horrible racist attack in Charleston, South Carolina against African American churchgoers, Landrieu has created a needlessly divisive dispute in New Orleans. The monuments had nothing to do with the Charleston attack and almost no one in New Orleans was calling for their removal prior to Landrieu's surprise announcement.
It is hard to imagine that politics did not enter into the thinking of Mayor Landrieu, a politician who has been in public office for 30 years. He may believe that the fight will generate more political support in New Orleans so he can change the city charter and run for a third term as Mayor. Otherwise, he may believe this will look good on a national level and lead to his appointment to a cabinet position the next time the Democrats win the White House.
While this racially charged issue may help further Landrieu's political career, it has been very destructive to the image of New Orleans as the historically significant statues are on the verge of being removed.
In fact, one poll of tourists showed that Lee Circle is in the top ten list of attractions in New Orleans. Thus, losing Lee Circle will remove an invaluable and popular historic landmark from the landscape of New Orleans. Clearly, the statue removal will harm the reputation of New Orleans and likely cost the city money it can ill afford to lose.
There is speculation that the Landrieu administration will put the statues initially in a warehouse and then eventually exhibit them on a property owned by a large landowner and Democratic Party activist. Nonetheless, it does not matter where they are eventually displayed, because no park or museum can be better than their current location.
A new contractor, All Crane Rental, has reportedly been enlisted to remove the monuments. It remains to be seen whether Landrieu will attempt to remove the statues prior to Mardi Gras; however, it seems clear that something will be happening very soon.
Whenever Landrieu decides to remove the statues will be a very sad day in the history of New Orleans, a day that will be forever known as an attack on the city's history. A much better approach was offered by McGraw, who noted that " a healthy, forward – looking society that is strong and vibrant is better served by explaining history, not erasing it."
If McGraw loses at the district court level, the case may eventually be taken up by the Louisiana Supreme Court, who will hopefully agree with McGraw that removing these "priceless works of art" is not legal and not in the best interest of New Orleans, a city about to celebrate its tri-centennial. New Orleans has almost 300 years of history, not all of it exemplary, but all of it worth remembering because as George Santayana said "those who do not learn history, are doomed to repeat it." In the case of New Orleans, those words ring true, now more than ever.