In the pre-dawn hours of Thursday in New Orleans, workers in tactical vests and masks began the removal and relocation of a Confederate monument from its platform, the second such operation conducted there under cover of night due to the controversy surrounding it.
Even though it was barely dawn, the event drew protesters from both sides of the debate over the city removing four Confederate statues, one side fighting to preserve “heritage” and the other celebrating a reconciliation over slavery.
Workers wore protective gear because they had reportedly received death threats for cooperating in the city’s plan to remove the monuments.
“This morning, we continue our march to reconciliation by removing the Jefferson Davis Confederate statue from its pedestal of reverence,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Twitter.
— Mitch Landrieu (@MayorLandrieu) May 11, 2017
Davis, a slave owner, was president of the Confederate States from 1861 until 1865. Even after the war ended, according to his memoirs, Davis remained a staunch apologist for slavery and espoused white supremacist views. Red graffiti saying “Slave Owner” was added to the statue in 2004.
Angry protesters stood behind barriers on one side, waving confederate and American flags. They say that Confederate iconography represents heritage. The other side argues that lingering vestiges of the confederacy emboldens white supremacy and perpetuates racism.
The New Orleans City Council voted to remove the statue of Davis, along with three other Confederate landmarks, in December 2015. The vote was met with fierce opposition; historic preservation societies and the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the city from removing the statues. A U.S. Court of Board of Appeals in March rejected their claims, affirming an earlier decision made by a lower court last year.
“The statues that are being removed were erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the “Cult of the Lost Cause,” a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy,” Landrieu’s office said in a statement.
“I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it,” Landrieu added. “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future. We should not be afraid to confront and reconcile our past.”
On April 24, the city brought down a white obelisk, the “Liberty Monument,” which celebrated efforts by white supremacist insurrectionists to overthrow the government during the Reconstruction era. The city added a disclaimer in the 1970s, on the heels of the civil rights movement, saying that that the monument was not in keeping with the city’s modern philosophy.
Still to go are monuments to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. The city issued a statement saying it would not release a timeline for those removals: “Due to the “widely known intimidation, threats, and violence, serious safety concerns remain.”