New Orleans is a majority African-American city although the number of black residents has fallen since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina drove many people from the city. The majority black City Council in 2015 voted 6-1 to approve plans to take the statues down, but legal battles over their fate have prevented the removal until now, said Landrieu, who proposed the monuments’ removal and rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city’s black residents.
New Orleans officials removed the first of four prominent Confederate monuments early Monday, the latest Southern institution to sever itself from symbols viewed by many as a representation racism and white supremacy. In the dark of night, workers wearing masks and tactical vests arrived Monday at New Orleans’ Battle of Liberty Place monument to take it down.
Police snipers were positioned on nearby rooftops, according to The Times-Picayune newspaper, and the trucks and equipment used in the operation had company names covered by cardboard and black tape.
The first memorial to come down was the Liberty Monument, an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League. Workers arrived to begin removing the statue, which commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government in New Orleans, around 1:25 a.m. in an attempt to avoid disruption from supporters who want the monuments to stay, some of whom city officials said have made death threats.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called the Liberty Monument “the most offensive of the four” to be taken down, adding it was erected to “revere white supremacy.”
“If there was ever a statue that needed to be taken down, it’s that one,” he said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press.
The Crescent City White League attempted to overthrow a biracial Reconstruction government in New Orleans after the Civil War. That attempt failed, but white supremacist Democrats later took control of the state.
An inscription added in 1932 said the Yankees withdrew federal troops and “recognized white supremacy in the South” after the group challenged Louisiana’s biracial government after the Civil War. In 1993, these words were covered by a granite slab with a new inscription, saying the obelisk honors “Americans on both sides” who died and that the conflict “should teach us lessons for the future.”
Other monuments expected to be removed include a bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in a traffic circle, named Lee Circle, in the city’s central business district since 1884; an equestrian statue of P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general, and one of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.
The removal happened on Confederate Memorial Day, which is formally observed by Alabama and Mississippi to commemorate those who died in the Civil War.
The debate over Confederate symbols has taken center stage since nine people were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June 2015. South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag, which flew at its State House for more than 50 years, and other Southern cities have considered taking down monuments.
A group of monument supporters and counterprotesters, led by the pro-monument Monumental Task Committee, began a vigll at the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at midnight. However, the toppling began at the site of the Liberty Monument (behind the Shops at Canal Place), which Landrieu called “the most offensive of the four” and said it was erected to “revere white supremacy.”
Monument supporters call the monuments part of the city’s history and say they should be protected historic structures.
Robert Bonner, 63, who said he is a Civil War re-enactor, was there to protest the statue’s removal.
“I think it’s a terrible thing,” he said. “When you start removing the history of the city, you start losing money. You start losing where you came from and where you’ve been.”