New Orleans city officials began the long-planned removal of four Confederate monuments early Monday morning as crews dismantled an obelisk commemorating an 1874 white supremacist uprising.
The monument celebrated the so-called “Battle of Liberty Place,” in which some 5,000 members of the “White League,” many of whom were Confederate veterans, rose up violently against the city’s integrated police force during Reconstruction. More than 30 people were killed and federal troops had to be called in to restore order.
In 2015, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced his plans to remove four Confederate monuments across the city, including the Liberty Place monument as well as statutes commemorating Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard. Opponents of the plan sued, but a federal court ruled in March that city officials could proceed with the statutes’ removal.
“The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance,” Landrieu said in a statement. “Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile — and most importantly — choose a better future. We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context — and that’s where these statues belong.”
Crews rolled up to the Liberty Place monument at about 1:30 a.m. Monday morning, with workers wearing flak jackets and face masks and flanked by New Orleans police officers, measures Landrieu’s office said were necessary due to “serious security concerns” and threats which had been made against contractors. Several protestors shouted at workers as they dismantled the monument, though most had left to join a larger vigil at the Jefferson Davis statue at Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway.
Removal of the statues is being funded by private sources, though city officials have declined to identify them.
While efforts to remove Confederate monuments haven’t yet reached most of the Gulf Coast, New Orleans isn’t the first Southern city to take such steps. The University of Texas at Austin removed a statue of Jefferson Davis in 2015, and officials in Lousiville, Ky. removed a Confederate monument late last year. Many city and state governments — including Pensacola — have removed Confederate flag displays in recent years. Other cities’ plans to remove monuments, including those in Memphis, Tenn. and Birmingham, Ala. have been thwarted by state officials.
Pensacola’s Confederate monument in Lee Square was defaced in 2015, with vandals spraypainting “Confed lives don’t matter” spraypainted across the granite pillar. The Pensacola City Council in 2000 adopted a policy requiring a city council vote before any historic monument could be removed, but that policy isn’t codified in an ordinance and likely wouldn’t prevent a mayor from acting unilaterally, as Mayor Ashton Hayward did earlier in 2015 by removing Confederate flags from the city’s “Five Flags” display.
City of Pensacola spokesman Vernon Stewart said Monday that while city officials are aware of the developments in New Orleans, there have been “no discussions or plans” regarding Pensacola’s monuments. Mobile, Ala. city officials did not respond to a request for comment.