On Friday, the fourth and final removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans officially completed the city’s controversial plan to free itself from what has been characterized as public homages to slavery and white supremacy. While the previous three monuments were removed under the cloak of darkness, in part because workers had received death threats for carrying out the city’s plan, Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered that the monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee be brought down in broad daylight Friday. No timeline was provided for the final plan due to “intimidation, threats, and violence, sparking serious safety concerns” for the crew.
“Today we take another step in defining our City not by our past but by our bright future,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a news release. “While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans.”
In December 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to uproot the four confederate landmarks.”We cannot be afraid of the truth,” said Landrieu, who along with other city leaders decided to take down the monuments, a decision that withstood challenges in federal court. The removal of the monuments was prompted by the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The shooter, Dylann Roof, was a proud racist who flaunted the Confederate flag, reinforcing many people’s belief that such symbols represent hate more than history. The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the city in an effort to block the plan, and in March a U.S. Court of Appeals found in favor of the city, clearing the path for removal.
The Confederacy was made up of states that attempted to preserve slavery in the South and secede from the United States in the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. Earlier this month, dozens of supporters of the monuments clashed with hundreds of demonstrators near the site of the Lee statue. While the events remained peaceful, protesters for and against the removal were in attendance, some waving American flags some waving Confederate flags. The resistance to their removal was from those who argue the importance of preserving “heritage,” through the monuments symbolism. Others said the Lee statue was a celebration of slavery and part of the city’s offensive and outdated Southern values. More than 100 supporters of the removals were on hand celebrating and listening to a jazz band, not unlike behavior at city parks in New Orleans on any Friday.
“The statues were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy. [The monuments] were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in the shadows [of them] about who was still in charge in this city,” Landrieu said in a statement Friday.
In April, The Liberty Monument was taken down. The landmark honored the Crescent City White League, a white supremacist group who tried to overthrow the racially integrated city police and state militia in an 1874 attack. Since May 11, crews in New Orleans have also removed the monument of Jefferson Davis, the slave-owning president of the Confederate States. Additionally, the 27-foot monument, featuring PGT Beauregard on horseback, was removed. Beauregard is the general who ordered the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in 1861. His was the third of four monuments coming down in the city’s attempt to rectify post-Civil War divisions and eliminate icons of white supremacy from places of prominence, but some object to what they consider erasing history. The last one to come down was of General Robert E. Lee.
Landrieu spokeswoman Erin Burns said the city will hold the monuments and consider proposals to move them to government or non-profit entities. The city has said it will leave intact the marble column where Lee’s statue had been and upgrade the circle of land around it. That public space continues to be named Lee Circle.
Landrieu said the four monuments were out of step with a modern city that embraces people of all races while acknowledging that New Orleans was also once one of the biggest slave markets in America. The mayor and many others state officials have called them “symbols of white supremacy” and see the monuments as a part of a movement “to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”
Such removals in the future might be left up to the public, as the Louisiana House passed a bill Monday that would protect Confederate monuments in the state by requiring a special election for voters to approve the action. Similar efforts in Virginia have also stirred controversy. In response to plans to remove a separate statue of Lee in Charlottesville, alt-right leader and white nationalist Richard Spencer on Saturday led what the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a “Klan-like fiery torch rally” in the city. “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer told the crowd.
Also on Friday, in Alabama, the legislature sent a bill to the desk of Governor Kay Ivey that would prohibit the removal of monuments on public property that have been in place for at least 20 years. Eileen Jones, a spokeswoman for Ivey, said as of Friday afternoon, Ivey had not decided whether to sign the bill into law.
Sources: Bernie Woodall (Reuters) / Tess Owen (Vice News) / Morgan Conley (Vice News)