State workers in New Orleans began removing the first of four prominent Confederate monuments under cover of darkness early Monday to limit any emotional or violent protests. They are the latest in Southern institutions to attempt to cut ties with symbols that are perceived by many to represent racism and white supremacy. The first memorial to be removed was one that commemorated whites who tried to topple a bi-racial post-Civil War government in New Orleans. Workers who had been inspecting the statue and preparing for its removal were seen wearing flak jackets and helmets. Police officers also were posted to watch from the top of a parking garage nearby.
Three more statues are set to be removed later this week now that legal challenges have been put to rest. They are monuments to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. The city of New Orleans issued a statement reporting that private funding had been obtained to cover the cost of the statues removal. “There’s a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press. Opponents of the removal began a candlelight vigil very early Monday at the Davis statue, and things there got intense for a time.
This tension has been felt nationally. When nine parishioners were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June of 2015, the state removed the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in the weeks that followed. The University of Mississippi took down its state flag because it included the Confederate emblem. The primary debate focuses on people who see the symbols as offensive and honoring the region’s slave-owning past. Others call the monuments part of the city’s history and believe that they should be protected as historic structures.
In New Orleans, the majority black City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to remove the statues, but legal battles prevented such action until now. The present Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, proposed the removal and won victory to his office twice with overwhelming support from the black community. Since the removal of the statues was announced, contractors hired by the city have faced death threats and intimidation. Passions about the Civil War still run deep in this, and many other, southern regions. “All of what we will do in the next days will be designed to make sure that we protect everybody, that the workers are safe, the folks around the monuments are safe and that nobody gets hurt,” Landrieu said. The Mayor continued, “The monuments are an aberration. They’re a denial of our history, and they were done in a time when people who still controlled the Confederacy were in charge of this city, and it only represents a four-year period in our 1000-year march to where we are today.”
What are your thoughts about cities in Southern regions removing Confederate symbols and statues?