After months of debate, the city of New Orleans began removing its Confederate monuments on Monday, a step supporters say is the first step towards distancing the city from a past rooted in slavery and racism. Perhaps to avoid pro-Confederate demonstrators, the city chose to remove the first of four monuments in the dark of night, with workers arriving at 1:30 in the morning to begin hauling away the Liberty Monument.
The monument has been called the “most offensive” of the four, having been erected in memory of those who tried to topple the post-war New Orleans government. In comments to the press, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said it was a monument created to “revere white supremacy.”
“If there was ever a statue that needed to be taken down, it’s that one,” he said.
The removal process was reportedly conducted by workers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, guarded by police officers in sniper positions atop a nearby parking garage.
Statues commemorating Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard will be removed by the end of the week.
“There’s a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are,” Landrieu said. “The monuments are an aberration. They’re actually a denial of our history and they were done in a time when people who still controlled the Confederacy were in charge of this city and it only represents a four-year period in our 1000-year march to where we are today.”
The removal of the statues has been vigorously opposed by many groups, and not all of them have a particular stake in the pro-, anti- Confederate debate. For instance, the Monumental Task Committee released a statement blasting the city for the secretive, cover-of-darkness approach.
“The Monumental Task Committee has opposed moving and removing monuments throughout its 29 years,” said MTC president Pierre McGraw. “This removal completely lacks basic government transparency. The whole process has been flawed since the beginning, and this secretive removal under the cloak of darkness, outside of the public bid, masked contractors, and using unidentified money wreaks of atrocious government. People across Louisiana should be concerned over what will disappear next.”
It’s still not clear what this is supposed to accomplish, other than widening the divide between southern whites and blacks. People aren’t visiting these monuments so they can pray for the return of slavery. Confederate symbolism, to many in the South, stands for much more than the Civil War. It stands for their own upbringing, their own culture, and their own family heritage.
Perhaps the time has come to reconsider some of that symbolism, but this isn’t the way to go about it. To simply say, flat out, “Hey, your heritage is one of racism and evil”…that’s never going to get you anywhere. Respect goes both ways.