NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Piece-by-piece and in the dead of night, New Orleans’ landscape is changing as city workers take down massive works of bronze and stone that once seemed immoveable in a region where some still cling to a Confederate legacy.
The city announced late Tuesday that it had begun the process of removing a statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard – the third of four monuments city officials plan to take down across the city. The news release came as police cordoned off the site and what appeared to be a large crane was moved into position.
“Today we take another step in defining our City not by our past but by our bright future,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu 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 monument supporters and opponents heckled each other. Contractors involved in the removal process have been threatened, and the work stalled for months as monument supporters looked in vain to the courts for help. Workers removing the memorials have generally worn bulletproof vests, helmets and face coverings to shield their identities.
Supporters have sometimes camped out in the streets, waving the Confederate battle flag and calling for the monuments to stay put. To them, the works are a way to remember and honor history.
But for many in this majority black city, the monuments pay honor to a history of slavery and segregation, and they want them down. When the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was finally lifted from its pedestal, a cheer erupted from dozens of demonstrators who’d waited for hours to see the city fulfill its promise.
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. A massive bronze likeness of him on horseback 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. His is the third monument designated to be removed.
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.