Workers in New Orleans on Friday began the removal of a Confederate monument, the fourth and final removal in the city’s controversial plan to free itself from what the mayor and many others characterized as public homages to slavery and white supremacy.
While the previous three monuments were removed under cover of darkness in part because workers had received death threats for carrying out the city’s plan, Mayor Mitch Landrieu ordered that the monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee be brought down in broad daylight Friday.
The 16.5-foot-tall statue of Lee stood atop a pedestal more than 60 feet high, towering above a traffic interchange and public space near the city’s National WWII Museum.
That public space continues to be named Lee Circle.
Thursday night, protesters from both sides of the debate gathered at the site of the monument. Some proclaimed the importance of preserving “heritage,” others said the Lee statue was a celebration of slavery. Dozens more protesters showed up on Friday morning, and the crowds grew steadily throughout the day.
As the general commander of Confederate forces, Lee surrendered his army in 1865, effectively ending the Civil War. Historians disagree about Lee’s ultimate views on slavery, but he became a powerful symbol of the “Lost Cause,” an idealized postwar characterization in the former Confederacy of the antebellum South and the war itself.
“The statues 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 Friday.
Similar efforts in Virginia have also stirred controversy. In response to plans to remove a separate statue of Lee in Charlottesville, alt-right leader and white nationalist Richard Spencer on Saturday led what the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a “Klan-like fiery torch rally” in the city.
“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer told the crowd.
In December 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove the four confederate landmarks. The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the city in an effort to block the plan, and in March a U.S. Court of Appeals found in favor of the city, clearing the path for removal.