New Orleans votes to remove Confederate monuments

TRICE EDNEY NEWS WIRE

After several hours of heated debate, the New Orleans City Council has voted 6-1 to declare four Confederate-era monuments a nuisance, paving the way for their removal from prominent locations around the city.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, surrounded by six of the seven New Orleans council members, signs ordinance calling for the relocation of four Confederate monuments from prominent locations in New Orleans on Dec. 17.(PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ORLEANS MAYOR’S OFFICE)
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, surrounded by six of the seven New Orleans council members, signs ordinance calling for the relocation of four Confederate monuments from prominent locations in New Orleans on Dec. 17.
(PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ORLEANS MAYOR’S OFFICE)

The lone dissenting vote Dec. 17 was cast by Councilwoman Stacy Head.

No timetable has been set for the removal of what many Black residents have called offensive monuments, and some anticipate that the effort to remove these monuments is far from over with legal challenges to block the majority-Black council from moving forward with its efforts.

Before the council voted in a chamber that was filled beyond capacity, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the council that the monuments should be relocated to a Civil War museum and Councilwoman Stacy Head proposed that the Liberty Monument and Jefferson Davis statue be removed while the P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee monuments be allowed to remain where they are currently located.

‘Cleanse the city’
Before the vote, National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial urged the City Council to vote unanimously remove the Confederate monuments.

“The Confederate States of America waged war against the United States of America,” Morial said.

“Its leaders were enemies of the United States, and its symbols are symbols of treason. A patriotic society should have no interest in revering its enemies or honoring acts of treason. I urge New Orleans City Council cleanse the city of the detritus of an inhumane institution.”

The former mayor said a unanimous vote would send a powerful message.

“There are those who say there are more important concerns facing the city right now,” Morial said. “I submit that there is nothing more important to a community than racial reconciliation.”
The issue is a deeply personal one, Morial said.

“As a boy at Christian Brothers School, I often walked past the P.G.T. Beauregard statues while I was learning in school about the Civil War,” he said. “I remember wondering, ‘Why is that statue still there?’ It seemed to fly in the face of everything we were being taught about the monstrousness of slavery and the staggering toll in blood and treasure that was squandered to keep it alive. That such a thing should be celebrated in the 20th Century bewildered and disgusted me.”

Name change urged
Morial had called for Lee Circle, named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, to be renamed Tricentennial Circle in honor of the city’s 300th anniversary.

“Confederate monuments are part of our history and should be discussed and analyzed in schools and museums,” Morial said. “But places of honor in out beautiful city should be reserved for those who have enriched and enhanced its beauty and vitality.”

“Those structures are monuments that glorify people that were the terrorists and traitors of a terrible time in our country’s history,” attorney Danatus King, former president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, said in an opinion piece dated Dec. 10.

“Contrary to recent arguments regarding heritage, those monuments were erected to honor those people that owned other human beings; that fought to preserve a way of life that allowed human beings to be owned like animals. That allowed women to be raped in front of their mates and children.

“Allowed human beings to be beaten, tortured and killed for not obeying their masters. Those structures were erected to honor ideas and ideals that I do not honor, that should not be honored.

Allowing those structures to remain shows that those despicable people and what they stood for and fought for is still honored. Those structures must come down.

Republicans respond
Before the vote, a local Republican group proposed allowing the Confederate monuments to remain in their current locations but erecting monuments to Black historical figures.

During a spring gathering that was part of the city’s Welcome Table race relations initiative, Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for the removal of Confederate monuments honoring Robert. E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis and another commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place and the Reconstruction-era Crescent City White League.

Although a number of grassroots Black groups have been calling for the removal of the aforementioned monuments and others for years, the mayor’s proposal re-ignited the debate and prompted criticism from both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who said the mayor should focus instead on lowering the city’s rising murder rate.

Alternative presented
Some Black leaders, including the Rev. Tom Watson, accused the mayor of using the debate about the removal of the monuments to distract voters from more pressing issues like violent crime, chronic unemployment among Black men and unconstitutional policing by the New Orleans Police Department which is in the midst of a federally mandated consent decree aimed at overhauling the department.

In September, the Vieux Carre Commission voted to have the 35-foot-tall obelisk removed.

“It seems apparent now that the Liberty Monument is going to go. What happens beyond that is generally up for discussion,” WWL-TV political analyst Clancy DuBos said.

The Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, along with its chairman and former councilman, Jay Batt, also agreed the Liberty Place Monument should go but said it opposed the removal of the three Confederate monuments. It presented an alternative to the proposal to remove the Confederate monuments.

The GOP Committee said the city should keep the Confederate monuments in their current locations but add plaques to describe their historical context and erect new monuments to honor African-American heroes and trailblazers like Louisiana’s first Black Governor P.B.S Pinchback.

“Instead of tearing down history, which to me is tantamount of burning books, that we augment the landscape with other monuments to great Americans who were African-American as well,” said Batt.

Some Blacks were skeptical about the willingness of the city to honor Black historical figures and luminaries.

“This is a city that refuses to acknowledge the freedom struggle exemplified by the 1811 slave revolt, the largest uprising of enslaved Africans in U.S. history,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “It didn’t say a single word about the 200th anniversary of the revolt four years ago — it was like it never happened.

Lawsuit filed
Just hours after the council vote, four organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New Orleans in an effort to block the removal of the Confederate-era monuments from their current public spaces.

The lawsuit, filed by the Louisiana Landmark Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Committee and Beauregard Camp No. 130, contends that removing the monuments would violate several federal and state laws, including Louisiana’s constitution.

The case will be handled by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

The mayor, who said he plans to remove the monuments sooner rather than later and has already identified a contractor to carry out the work, did not seem all that concerned about the legal challenges.

“I want to thank the New Orleans City Council for their courageous decision to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future,” Landrieu said.

“Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people. These monuments do not now nor have they ever reflected the history, the strength, the richness, the diversity or the soul of who we are as a people and a city.

This story is special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Louisiana Weekly.

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