City Council renames Washington Artillery Park to honor Black lieutenant governor

(Photo: Jason Riedy | CC Flickr)
The New Orleans City Council approved a motion earlier this month to rename Washington Artillery Park after Oscar James Dunn, a former slave who became Louisiana’s lieutenant governor during the Reconstruction.

The City Council unanimously approved the motion 7-0 during their regular meeting on July 1.

District C City Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represents the French Quarter, said the monument was located in its present location to “keep White supremacy where it was” within the city and not made because of the work “subsequent of the Civil War,” she acknowledged the monument’s significance.

“We also have concerns to ensure that entire history is told because that is important,” Palmer said.

The monument’s name change came amid a recent push to change streets and physical locations, and remove monuments, named after Confederate officials and/or other names that uphold White supremacy. Although renaming and removal efforts had been underway for decades, the most recent effort came after the nationwide mass protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

In June 2020, the New Orleans Street City Council Street Renaming Commission was formed to investigate the histories behind 37 public locations. The commission’s final report was issued on March 1, 2021.

The list ultimately included Washington Artillery Park, which was erected by former Mayor Moon Landrieu in 1976 and formally dedicated in 1976 to honor soldiers in France, Spain, the Confederacy and the U.S., according to Palmer. While the monument has Confederate roots, the artillery was formed in 1838, she added.

The park is now a part of the 141st Field Artillery Regiment of Louisiana National Guard.

Dunn’s name was suggested as a alternative name for the park during renaming discussions, according to Palmer.

In 1822, Dunn was born into slavery in New Orleans. At 10 years old, Dunn was purchased by his stepfather and was subsequently emancipated, becoming a carpenter for several years.

Later in life, Dunn served on numerous organizations, including the Friends of Universal Suffrage, and advocated for voting rights, organized registration drives and participated in efforts to ensure Black children weren’t apprenticed and “effectively re-enslaved” by White planters, according to Palmer.

In 1866, Dunn became the president of the People’s Bakery, a worker-owned cooperative modeled on European experimental joint stock companies that were based on ideas of Charles Fourier, an early 19th century French philosopher who wrote about utopian socialism.

In 1868, Dunn was elected Louisiana’s lieutenant governor. The state legislature set money aside to erect a memorial for Dunn following Reconstruction, although it never happened, according to Palmer.