Pro-removal groups argue that the monuments represent the city's racist past while opponents claim that we can't simply erase history.
On Monday morning, the city of New Orleans took down the Battle of Liberty Place monument, the first of four Confederate memorials scheduled for removal following more than a year of debates and protests on the matter.
At approximately 2 a.m. on Monday — under cover of darkness, outfitted with helmets and tactical vests, and covered by police snipers on nearby rooftops for protection — workers began removing the Battle of Liberty Place monument. To further guard against any violent resistance efforts, workers even blacked out the company names on the sides of their vehicles, reports The Times-Picayune.
These security measures are warranted. Past contractors had been forced to quit the project after facing death threats, ultimately compelling the mayor’s office to not make the removal schedule public and essentially conduct the operation in secret.
Such measures follow months upon months of protests on both sides of the issue, stemming all the way back to December 2015, when the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to take down the four statues, as outlined in an ordinance from Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
On Monday, with the first removal finally complete, Landrieu issued a press release summarizing his motivations, stating:
“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. 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.”
Indeed, the four monuments in question will go into storage before relocation to as yet unnamed museums or similar facilities.
Of the four, the Battle of Liberty Place monument was the first to go into storage because Landrieu and company deemed it the most offensive.
As The Times-Picayune writes regarding the monument: “Erected in 1891, it commemorates the Crescent City White League-attempt to overthrow the city’s Reconstructionist government after the Civil War. Its inscription hailed ‘white supremacy in the South,’ but a new plaque covered the original and recognized ‘Americans on both sides’ who lost their lives in the skirmish.”
Given history like this, removal advocacy groups like Take ‘Em Down Nola have long argued that the monuments are symbols of a racist past. As the group writes on its website: “We demand the freedom to live in a city where we are not forced to pay taxes for the maintenance of public symbols that demean us and psychologically terrorize us.”
At the same time, groups like the Monumental Task Committee — not to mention dozens of private citizens who staged protests right up until police removed them from the scene just before 2 a.m. on Monday — argue that the city should not simply erase its history. Had the group been involved in the discussions, they claim that they would have advocated for a plan that kept the monuments in place while adding placards that would put the monuments in their proper historical context.
And with the next three monuments — featuring Confederacy leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P.G.T. Beauregard — all slated to come down in the near future, the city of New Orleans is sure to soon face this same debate all over again.