New Orleans removes Gen. Robert E. Lee statue, its last Confederate-era monument,
The city is taking down several of the monuments after a 6-1 city council vote on their removal. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said they belong in a museum “with context.” USA TODAY
NEW ORLEANS — The 16-foot-tall bronze statue of Robert E. Lee in New Orleans was removed Friday from its perch high above St. Charles Avenue where the Confederate general had stood watch for 133 years.
The removal of the last, and perhaps most iconic of the city’s four Confederate-era monuments drew dozens of people to Lee Circle, where it is located, late Thursday and early Friday.
By mid-morning, activity began at the site as cranes and backhoes were used.
The statue was lifted from its pedestal early Friday evening, capping a day in which hundreds gathered to gawk in a somewhat festive atmosphere.
Lee Circle has been a focal point for citizens of the city for more than 130 years, with many not paying attention to the historic significance or controversy of the monument to the general that led the Confederate Army against Union troops.
That history has become a focus for both pro and anti-monument groups.
A crowd of perhaps 200 people were gathered at the circle Thursday night. There were several Confederate battle flags, some American flags and a small band of drummers who led the anti-monument people with a chant of “Take ‘Em Down.”
Without the barricades to separate the two groups, the drummers and dancers edged close to the pro-monument crowd, who remained stoic.
“We want him to stay here,” said Robert Bonner, a supporter of the Lee statue. “We know he’s going to come down, but that’s not going to stop us. We want a voice.”
“I wanted this to be seen with their own eyes,” said DeMirah Howard, who supports the monuments being removed. “It’s not good for our children to view it (the memorial).”
For his part, Bonner, who said his family has a long lineage in New Orleans, and whose father fought in several wars, said he believes the takedown of the monument will be emotional.
“I tell you what it felt like with the other ones,” he said. “I cried… Where’s it going to stop?”
By the time crews arrived, much of the overnight gathering had thinned to just a few onlookers.
During the night, dozens of people had spirited exchanges that, for the most part, stayed civil. There was one arrest after a man went past the barricades and climbed atop the stairs leading to the column. Police tried to get the man to come down peacefully, but eventually they handcuffed him and removed him to some cheers and jeers.
Erected in 1884, Lee’s is the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed in accordance with a 2015 City Council vote.
The most recent removal of a statue happened Wednesday morning, when the 102-year-old bronze statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T Beauregard was removed from the entrance to City Park.
The statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis was removed last week and a monument memorializing a deadly 1874 white-supremacist uprising was removed in April.
Unlike the first three statues — which were removed under in the dark — city officials moved to take Lee’s statue down during the day.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the change was made to ensure the safety of the workers because of its proximity to electrical wires and New Orleans’ famous streetcar lines. It would be impossible to do the removal “at dark and maintain the safety of the construction workers,” he said.
In a news release obtained by The Associated Press, the city said the statues were “erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy.”
Of the four monuments, Lee’s was easily the most prominent, with the bronze statue alone being close to 20 feet tall. It’s an image of Lee standing tall in uniform, with his arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall column.
It towered over a traffic circle — Lee Circle — in an area between the office buildings of the city’s business district and stately 19th-century mansions in the nearby Garden District.
The city 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 non-profits and government entities will be allowed to take part, and the city said the process will not include the Beauregard statue because of legal issues.
The city said those taking the statues cannot display them outdoors on public property in New Orleans.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter: @DCMonteverde
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