Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's figure seemed to gaze down Tuesday (Feb. 9) at the last of the more than two dozen Mardi Gras season parades to maneuver around his lofty pedestal in New Orleans during the 2016 Carnival. Three days earlier, on an equestrian statue high above the entrance to City Park, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard kept watch on thousands of revelers streaming up Esplanade Avenue to secure a view of the spectacular Krewe of Endymion.
The two statues commemorating the Confederacy, along with others that have been part of this city's landscape for more than a century, have co-existed unobtrusively with Mardi Gras throughout most of that time. But 2016 is different. As City Hall moves to take down the four Confederate monuments amid controversy, Carnival organizations and parade-goers have weighed in with subtle and not-so-subtle commentary.
True to the laissez faire spirit of the season, the Carnival displays provoked no major incident or formal protest. Police officers stationed at Lee Circle on Tuesday indicated their presence there was the same, in size and mission, as any other Mardi Gras. They reported having seen no unusual activity related to the Confederate monument debate.
Monuments-related maskers could be found, such as the homeless Robert E. Lee in the French Quarter, or the good-natured Lee Circle replacements (Harry Lee, Bruce Lee, Sara Lee, Fleur-de-Lee, etc.) that WWL television captured in Faubourg Marigny. But they were hardly omnipresent.
Far more attention-getting than the Confederate costumes on Fat Tuesday were the parade floats making light of the statue removal earlier in the season. Le Krewe d'Etat had a monument-inspired float suggesting that the removal effort was a tactic to divert public attention from more serious problems facing the city. The Krewe of Muses had a satirical take on the controversy, with a float topped by a cross-armed figure of Robert E. Lee holding a small Confederate flag. The float had inscriptions reading "You can't change history," "But there were black Confederate soldiers," "Kiss my grits" and "Dixie 4 ever."
During the Krewe of Carrollton parade, a 5-year-old boy caught beads that featured small plastic Confederate flags. The necklace was thrown into the Gallier Hall reviewing stands where Mayor Mitch Landrieu normally hangs out for parades, although he wasn't that day.
There also were makeshift marching groups dressed in Confederate uniforms, social media reports of Lost Cause stalwarts planting the Confederate battle flag along parade routes and at least one Carnival ball that took note of the brouhaha. The Krewe of Athenians ball on Jan. 23 featured a satirical tableau focusing on Landrieu's efforts to remove the statues, complete with the playing of "Dixie" and the waving of U.S. and Confederate flags.
But in the end, for all the rancor that the issue has generated, the monuments debate rippled more than it roiled Mardi Gras 2016. It was just another footnote in Carnival's long history of social and political satire.
"We were making fun of the crazy arguments people have made on the issue," Staci Rosenberg, founder and captain of Muses, said of the organization's "Confederate Conversation Hearts" float. Speaking only for Muses, but tapping into the prevailing sentiment of the season, she added: "We're an equal opportunity offender."
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Wilborn P. Nobles III contributed to this story.