Early this morning, with a large number of New Orleans Police Department officers standing watch, city contractors wearing bulletproof vests and masks to hide their identities dismantled the first of four Confederate monuments slated for relocation in New Orleans.
The monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, an obelisk first erected near the foot of Canal Street in 1891, commemorates the members of the Crescent City White League — all-white; mostly Confederate veterans — who died during an 1874 uprising against the integrated metropolitan police force and the Louisiana state militia. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu described it as “the most offensive of the four” monuments slated for removal, adding that it was erected to “revere white supremacy,” according to the Guardian. Though the monument has been relocated and amended several times, its public display remained hotly contested in recent decades, and it was often vandalized with anti–white supremacy graffiti.
The removal operation began around 2 a.m. with the arrival of police and work crews at the site of the monument, at the end of Iberville Street near the riverfront, according to the Times-Picayune. Workers on a crane began disassembling the monument around 3 a.m., lowering it in sections onto two waiting flatbed trucks. The entire operation was completed around 5:35 a.m., leaving just a concrete base at the site.
Although video taken at the scene showed at least one vocal opponent of the removal, the mayor’s view is relatively blunt. “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,” Mayor Mitch 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.”
At a press conference held later this morning, Landrieu announced that the city has secured private financing for the relocation of all four monuments, though no additional details were given. Three others — a statue of Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle, a statue of Jefferson Davis on Jefferson Davis Parkway, and an equestrian statue of P.G.T. Beauregard at the entrance of City Park — will also be relocated, though the city won’t reveal when, “because of the security risk and threats placed on contractors seeking to do the work.” The monuments will initially be put in storage while “the City [seeks] a museum or other facility to relocate the statue.”
Though the New Orleans city council approved an ordinance in December 2015 calling for the statues’ removal, a federal appeals court only cleared the way for them to be relocated last month. Still, contractors and city workers have received threats over their possible participation in the removal operations.
There have been increasingly impassioned calls for the relocation and recontextualizing of Confederate monuments and flags throughout the United States in recent years. These intensified following the mass murder of black congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist and Confederate history buff.