The City of New New Orleans began the first of four scheduled removals of Confederate monuments in the city early Monday morning, as police barricaded the Battle for Liberty Place monument and snipers looked on, The Times-Picayune reports. Three other monuments that pay tribute to the city's Confederate history — the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard — are scheduled to be removed this week and will be placed in storage while the City seeks a museum to house them.
“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,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a statement on Monday. "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."
The Confederate monuments have become a subject of polarization in New Orleans, as groups like Take 'Em Down NOLA have organized in favor of removing the "symbols of white supremacy," as their website reads. The monuments have been set for removal since 2015, when the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 in favor of removal but the process has been met with opposition. In March, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit that sought to stop the removals. Previously, a contractor hired to work on the removal quit after receiving death threats.
As workers, wearing black jackets and cloth to hide their faces, began removing Battle for Liberty Place before sunrise on Monday, protesters in support of the monuments gathered outside of the police barricade, according to The Times-Picayune. A larger protest against the removals was also held in front of the Jefferson Davis statue earlier on Sunday night.
The four Confederate monuments were all built between 1884 and 1915. The Battle of Liberty Place statue was originally constructed in 1891 to commemorate members of the Crescent City White League, a group opposed to Reconstruction and integration, who died during a battle with New Orleans's newly integrated police force. A plaque added to the monument in 1932 honored "white supremacy in the South," before it was covered in 1989 with a new plaque to remember "Americans on both sides."
In his statment on Monday, Mayor Landrieu concluded, "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.”