NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Workers took down a Confederate monument to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard in New Orleans early Wednesday as onlookers watched from lawn chairs, defiant statue supporters waved Confederate battle flags and opponents celebrated.
It was the third of four such monuments to come down under a plan proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and approved by the City Council more than a year ago. As with two earlier removals, it happened under cover of darkness. Work began soon after sundown and news outlets showed the statue being lifted off its base shortly after 3 a.m.
The statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee will be the last to come down. The city already has removed one of the Confederacy’s only president and a memorial to a white rebellion against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in the city.
“Today we take another step in defining our City not by our past but by our bright future,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. “While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans.”
Landrieu called for removing the monuments in the emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos, recharging the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
The removal process has been anything but easy.
The City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to remove the monuments after several contentious public meetings marred by heckling and debate. Contractors in the removal process have been threatened, and the work stalled for months as statue supporters looked in vain to the courts for help.
Those removing the first two memorials generally wore bulletproof vests, helmets and face coverings to shield their identities as the work took place well after midnight to minimize attention.
More recently, lawmakers in the Louisiana House backed a proposal aimed at keeping cities from removing Confederate monuments in a vote Monday that black lawmakers derided as “divisive” and “offensive.”
Workers at the Beauregard removal covered their faces and wore helmets but the atmosphere appeared slightly more low-key. Local media showed a largely peaceful scene of monument supporters waving Confederate battle flags while those supporting removal stood nearby.
Later Wednesday police say they arrested a father and son for allegedly spray-painting the statue’s base with the words “Gen. Beauregard CSA.”
Across a bayou from where the monument stands, some observers sat in lawn chairs, and a brass band celebrating the sculpture’s removal showed up after midnight, news outlets reported. People in kayaks and canoes could be seen at times.
Celebrated New Orleans trumpet player Terence Blanchard told Nola.com/The Times-Picayune that he came to watch with his wife and two daughters when he learned the statue was coming down.
“It’s a sign that the world is changing,” said Blanchard, an African-American who attended high school nearby.
Monument supporters said the statues remember and honor history.
Pierre McGraw, President of the Monumental Task Committee which sought to keep the monuments, called the mayor’s actions an “insult” to all who donated money to build them and “honor the memory of their fallen family members.”
But for many in this majority black city, the monuments pay homage to a history of slavery and segregation.
“I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride,” Blanchard said. “It’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us.”
THE WHITE REBELLION
That granite obelisk, erected in 1891, was the least prominent monument and the first removed. But to some it was the most objectionable. It commemorated the Battle of Liberty Place — a rebellion in 1874 by whites against a biracial Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans. An inscription extolling white supremacy was added in 1932.
Unveiled in 1911, the memorial to the Confederacy’s only president was on a green space in the Mid-City neighborhood, the second monument removed. About 18 feet tall, it had a bronze likeness of Davis standing atop a tall stone pedestal.
GEN. P.G.T. BEAUREGARD
Beauregard commanded the attack at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, at the outbreak of the Civil War. Since 1915, his statue had been at a traffic circle near the entrance to New Orleans City Park and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
GEN. ROBERT E. LEE
It is easily the most prominent of the statues: Lee standing, in uniform, arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall pedestal. It was unveiled in 1884. The city said due to “intimidation, threats, and violence, serious safety concerns remain” it wouldn’t announce a timeline for Lee’s removal.
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