NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans began the process of taking down Confederate statutes early Monday with the removal of the monument to the Battle at Liberty Place and Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the other three would come down "sooner rather than later." The city became the latest Southern body to divorce itself from what some say are symbols of racism and intolerance but which opponents say are historic.
“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.
“Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. 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. 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.”
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The crews used to remove the monuments wore masks and full body suits to protect their identity. At one point as local media was showing live video of the removal, crews were asked to move so as to not show an angle that could reveal the identity of those doing the removal.
Landrieu said the memorials were coming down during the wee hours because of death threats and intimidation from some of those who want the monuments to stay and to minimize city disruption.
There was a small, but vocal, and mostly pro-monument group at the site.
Paul McIntyre, who said his great-grandfather's name was one on the memorial, disputed the legacy afforded those whose names were on the obelisk.
"None of them owned slaves, none of them were fighting for slavery," he said. "In the documents you can access, it tells you it's over state's rights."
New Orleans historical records reflect that the battle was fought between a group known as the 'White League' and Reconstruction government forces. A few thousand members of the White League fought against members of the local police, killing some of them in the uprising.
"The statue was put up to honor the killing of police officers by white supremacists," said Landrieu at a press briefing shortly after the monument was removed.
A vigil by pro-monument groups was held at the Jefferson Davis statue at midnight. Many of those in attendance said the statues represented history.
The city opened the lone bid for removal of the Confederate monument from Cuzan LLC on April 4, however, the Liberty Place Monument was not included in that bid.
In a statement from the City, details regarding the removal of the other statues, of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis, will not be released to the public.
Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has become heated since nine parishioners were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June 2015. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in the weeks after, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments.
A City Hall spokesman earlier Sunday issued a statement that said the city is "committed to taking down the Confederate monuments" but would not say when.
"Due to the widely known intimidation, threats, and violence there remains serious safety concerns," the statement continued. "Therefore, we will not be sharing the details on removal timeline."