NEW ORLEANS – Workers in New Orleans took down a Confederate monument to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard early Wednesday as onlookers watched from lawn chairs, while defiant statue supporters waved Confederate battle flags and opponents celebrated.
It was the third of four such monuments to come down under a plan proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and approved by the City Council more than a year ago. As with two earlier removals, it happened under cover of darkness. Work began soon after sundown and news outlets showed the statue being lifted off its base shortly after 3 a.m.
The city already had taken down a statue of the Confederacy’s only president and a memorial to a white rebellion against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city.
“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.”
Landrieu called for the monuments’ removal in the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos, recharging the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
The removal process has been anything but easy.
The City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to remove the monuments after a succession of contentious public meetings where impassioned supporters and opponents heckled each other. Contractors involved in the removal process have been threatened, and the work stalled for months as statue supporters looked in vain to the courts for help. Workers removing the first two memorials generally wore bulletproof vests, helmets and face coverings to shield their identities as the work took place well after midnight to minimize attention.
More recently, lawmakers in the Louisiana House backed a proposal aimed at keeping cities from removing Confederate monuments in a controversial vote Monday that black lawmakers derided as “divisive” and “offensive.”
Workers at the Beauregard removal Tuesday night also covered their faces and wore helmets but the atmosphere appeared slightly more low-key, with work starting in the evening after sunset. Local media showed images of monument supporters waving Confederate battle flags while those supporting their removal stood nearby. But the situation was largely peaceful. Across a bayou from where the monument stands, some observers sat in lawn chairs to watch the proceedings, and a brass band celebrating the sculpture’s removal showed up after midnight, news outlets reported. People in kayaks and canoes could be seen at times watching workers prepare the statue for removal.
Among the witnesses was Terence Blanchard, a celebrated New Orleans trumpet player who told Nola.comThe Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/2rqKQWv) that he headed for the scene with his wife and two daughters when he learned that the statue was coming down.
“It’s a sign that the world is changing,” said Blanchard, an African-American who attended a high school near the Beauregard monument.
Monument supporters, said the works are a way to remember and honor history.
“Mayor Landrieu’s actions are an insult to New Orleanians who came before us – the veterans, widows, parents, children, and citizens – who donated their personal money to build and place these monuments where they stand to honor the memory of their fallen family members,” said Pierre McGraw, President of the Monumental Task Committee which has been advocating keeping the monuments in place.
But for many in this majority black city, the monuments pay honor to a history of slavery and segregation, and they want them down.
“I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride,” Blanchard said. “It’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us.”
The White Rebellion
That granite obelisk, erected in 1891, was the least prominent of the monuments and the first to be removed. But to some it was the most objectionable. It commemorated what came to be known as the Battle of Liberty Place, in 1874 – a rebellion by whites who battled a biracial Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans. An inscription extolling white supremacy was added in 1932.
It had been tied up in legal battles over efforts to remove it since at least the 1980s. It was moved from busy Canal Street to a more obscure location in the 1990s, with a plaque calling for racial harmony.
Unveiled in 1911, the memorial to the Confederacy’s only president was in the Mid-City neighborhood on a broad green space and was the second monument to be removed. The monument, an estimated 18 feet tall, had a bronze likeness of Davis standing astride a tall stone pedestal.
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard
Beauregard commanded the attack at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, that marked the outbreak of the Civil War. His statue sits at a traffic circle near the entrance to New Orleans City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. It’s been there since 1915.
Gen. Robert E. Lee
It is easily the most prominent of the statues: Lee standing, in uniform, arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall pedestal. It was unveiled in 1884. The city said Tuesday that due to “intimidation, threats, and violence, serious safety concerns remain” so it would not announce a timeline for Lee’s removal.
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