Lee Circle has been changed with the removal of General Lee and not it will be renamed. But what name?

Lee Circle would become Harmony Circle under the New Orleans City Council’s first formal effort to remove the Confederate general’s name from the Central Business District. The larger-than-life bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, dating from 1884, was removed from its pedestal in the center of the circle in May 2017. Since then, the street circling the now-empty pedestal has still been known by his name, despite years of heated debate over what should replace it. Commenters have bandied about everything from Égalité Circle, Leah Chase Circle, Allen Toussaint Circle or a return to an earlier name, Tivoli Circle, as fitting replacements. Instead, District B Council member Lesli Harris, who represents the Central Business District and introduced an ordinance to rename the circle on Thursday, went with another name considered and rejected by a street renaming commission in 2021. “Renaming Lee Circle is a critical step to honoring values that truly matter to our city, rather than glorifying racist figures of the past,” Harris said in a prepared statement. “The word harmony reflects the city of New Orleans, where we all join together to make our community whole, unique, and joyful.”

Was the name change to Lee Circle ever officially made? If not, why not just go back to the original name?

Harris’s ordinance notes that while most people still refer to the street as Lee Circle, no records have been found that confirm its name was ever formally changed from Tivoli Circle. While the street renaming commission settled on Égalité Circle in its March 2021 report, Harris’s proposal drew support from a vice-chair of the street renaming commission, Mark Raymond Jr., who said Harmony Circle would “unite our people rather than divide them.” Harris’s ordinance doesn’t address another contentious question that has lingered ever since the council approved a request from former Mayor Mitch Landrieu and activists to remove the statue of Lee: what should appear on the pedestal instead.

Harmony? It means nothing to me as I would prefer to use history. This is a continuation of removing confederate names.

If approved, the ordinance would be the second time this year the council wipes Lee’s name off a city street. In January, the previous council voted to rename Robert E. Lee Boulevard to Allen Toussaint Boulevard in honor of the rhythm-and-blues great. The ordinance introduced Thursday has not been scheduled for a vote, but if history is any guide, the discussion could be less than harmonious. During months of debate in 2015, monument supporters vigorously opposed the original decision to evict Lee’s statute from the circle. Hundreds of protestors descended on the sites of the now-toppled statues in the days leading up to their eventual removal. Opposition to the renaming of the boulevard in Lakeview and Gentilly was much more muted. Meanwhile, even monument opponents have been split on the best way to rename the circle. Legendary chef Leah Chase’s name was once a leading contender. Last year, former Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer raised the possibility of honoring her with a stretch of Orleans Avenue in front of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant instead.

A decision has to be made and not all will be happy. As I said, I would go back to history for a name.

Harmony Circle?
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