Monday 18 December 2017

New Orleans' Confederate monuments removed

A statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee is removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans (AP)
A statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee is removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans (AP)

Workers in New Orleans have removed the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures.

The last of the monuments - a statue of General Robert E Lee facing defiantly north with his arms crossed - was lifted by a crane from its pedestal late on Friday.

As air was seen between Lee's statue and the pedestal below it, a cheer went out from the crowd who recorded the history with their phones and shook hands with each other in congratulations.

"I never thought I would see this day!" shouted Melanie Morel-Ensminger with joy. "But look! It's happening."

Lee's was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by mayor Mitch Landrieu.

It caps a nearly two-year-long process that has been railed against by those who feel the monuments are a part of Southern heritage and honour the dead. But removal of the monuments has drawn praise from those who saw them as brutal reminders of slavery and symbols of the historic oppression of black people.

Mr Landrieu called for the monuments' removal in the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church.

He drew blistering criticism from monument supporters and even some political allies. But in explaining his reasoning, the mayor has repeatedly said they do not represent the diversity and future of New Orleans.

"These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitised Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for," he said.

"After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism, as much as burning a cross on someone's lawn. They were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city," he added.

Of the four monuments, Lee's was easily the most prominent: The bronze statue alone is close to 20ft tall. It is a bronze sculpture of Lee looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60ft-tall column.

"If you can see history as it happens, it's more meaningful," said Al Kennedy, who supported the removal. Speaking of the Confederate past, he said: "It's my history, but it's not my heritage."

But others criticised the move.

"Mayor Landrieu and the City Council have stripped New Orleans of nationally recognised historic landmarks," said the Monumental Task Committee, an organisation that maintains monuments and plaques across the city. "With the removal of four of our century-plus aged landmarks, at 299 years old, New Orleans now heads in to our Tricentennial more divided and less historic."

In 2015, the City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monuments after a succession of contentious public meetings.

At last, a court decision cleared the way for the April removal of what is likely the most controversial of the monuments. Statues to the Confederacy's only president Jefferson Davis and General PGT Beauregard followed in quick succession until only Lee was left.

Attention now shifts to where the monuments will go and what will take their place.

The city said it has received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments, so it will solicit proposals on where they will go through an "open and transparent selection". Only nonprofits and government entities will be allowed to take part.

The city said those taking the statues cannot display them outdoors on public property in New Orleans. The city plans to leave the column at Lee's Circle intact and will mount public art in its place.

An American flag will stand where the Davis statue used to be, and the area where the Liberty Place monument used to stand "will remain as is". The City Park Improvement Association, civic groups and the city will decide what will go where the Beauregard statue once stood.

AP

Press Association

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