Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis; your continued presence is a “nuisance,” the mayor of New Orleans says. And it’s time for you to go.
Your statues, that is, if the city council agrees with him and votes to have the Civil War monuments removed — in the vein of the national trend to remove the Confederate Battle Flag.
Chances are, the generals and the former President of the Confederacy will tumble from their perches at city plazas. Historic societies in the 300-year-old city support it, and the proposal was introduced by a majority of city council members.
But the statues won’t go quietly. Some residents are screaming to keep them.
Others are screaming for them to go. And when the two sides have met at public discussions before the council, they’ve raised the roof and pointed fingers at each other — and not just the index finger.
The city has beefed up security in the chamber for Thursday’s discussion, the last before the vote, CNN affiliate WDSU reported.
The tipping point for Mayor Mitch Landrieu was Charleston.
He’d been thinking about having the symbols of the Confederacy removed for about a year, when the white gunman in South Carolina massacred black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal on June 17. Dylann Roof venerated the Confederated Battle Flag.
A week later, Landrieu announced the planned ordinance.
The Confederate monuments should be declared “nuisances,” no longer to be seen in open public space. Landrieu requested a vote to banish specters of racism.
The statues are unconstitutional, says the proposed ordinance marked Calendar No. 31,082.
“They honor, praise, or foster ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States, the state, or the laws of the city and suggests the supremacy of one ethnic, religious, or racial group over another.”
In July, the city called for 60 days of public meetings to review the proposed ordinance.
“This discussion is about whether these monuments, built to reinforce the false valor of a war fought over slavery, ever really belonged in a city as great as New Orleans, whose lifeblood flows from our diversity and inclusiveness,” Landrieu told the city council.
But objectors to the plan steered away from any racial argument.
Keeping the figures of the Confederacy was not about preserving racial injustice, they say, but about honoring figures who fought to protect the city.
New Orleans, which was the largest city in the Confederacy, fell to Union forces in 1862 and was under Federal occupation beyond the Civil War’s end in 1865.
People who want the statues gone, say this punches holes in the protector argument.
But one prominent artist who wants the figures gone, has also skirted the issue of race. Musician Wynton Marsalis, who is African American, said that Lee in particular has no historic place in the city.
“This symbolic place in our city should represent a great New Orleanian, or it should be an open space that represents our latest prevail and how people helped us, not a person who had nothing to do with our city and who indeed fought against the United States of America and lost,” Marsalis told WDSU.
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was a Louisiana native, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived in New Orleans after the war and died there.
Citizens pushing for removal are a diverse crowd that includes black and white residents. But there are African Americans on the side pushing to keep the statues as well, and waving Confederate Battle Flags.
One vocal opponent to Landrieu’s plan is Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who is African American. “It was not a community-driven process based on the concerns of citizens,” Cantrell said, according to NOLA.com. “This idea was thrust upon the city and the council from the top down.”
General Lee’s statue would fall the deepest of the three.
It stands 60 feet high atop a neoclassical column at what was christened Lee Circle in his honor. It was originally called Tivoli Circle and bears that name again today. Most downtown Mardi Gras parades snake right past it.
Lee faces north, looking in the direction of his former enemy, and has stood there since 1884, the history department at the University of New Orleans says. Both Davis and Beauregard attended the monument’s dedication.
Their statues were erected in the 1910s.
A fourth monument, probably the most contentious, would also fall if the ordinance passes.
The monument to the Battle of Liberty Place commemorates an uprising in 1874 of the White League against Federalist forces and police in an attempt to overthrow racially integrated governance put in place during Reconstruction.
Other, former mayors, including Landrieu’s father Moon Landrieu, have attempted to have this monument removed or altered.
Mitch Landrieu’s new ordinance does not specify what will happen to the monuments. They could land in a museum or in storage or be “otherwise disposed of in accordance with provisions of the law.”