New Orleans officials removed the first of four Confederate monuments today, the latest Southern institution to sever itself from symbols viewed by many as a representation racism and white supremacy.
The first memorial to come down was the Liberty Monument, an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League. 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 to the obelisk 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.”
Workers arrived around 1:25 a.m. in an attempt to avoid disruption from supporters who want the monuments to stay. City officials said protesters have even made death threats to those removing the statue.
The workers inspecting the statue ahead of its removal could be seen wearing flak jackets and helmets. Police officers watched the area from atop the parking garage of a nearby hotel. Meanwhile, a handful of people opposed to the move held a vigil at the statue of Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
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.
Three other statues to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis will be removed in later days now that legal challenges have been overcome.
The removals are “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,” Landrieu said in a statement released by his office. “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.”
People who want the Confederate memorials removed say they are offensive artifacts honoring the region’s slave-owning past. But others 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.”