Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who introduced the proposal a week after a white gunman killed nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., called the move a “courageous decision to turn a page on our divisive past.”
“Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people,” Landrieu said in a statement. “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.”
The ordinance dubs the monuments as “nuisances” that “honor, praise, or foster ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens as provided by the constitution and laws of the United States, the state, or the laws of the city and suggests the supremacy of one ethnic, religious, or racial group over another.”
Following the Emmanuel AME Church shooting, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called on the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. That flag came down July 10 as a large crowd gathered to mostly celebrate its removal. Similar debates over the Confederate flag and monuments bubbled up throughout the country.
Like elsewhere, the debate in New Orleans was an impassioned one, with one side arguing that the monuments represented history, not racism. As the Times-Picayune described:
The decision did not come lightly after months of public shouting matches, penned op-eds and rhetorical firefights on social media enveloped Landrieu’s request in June that the statues be displayed in a museum, mothballed or discarded as vestiges of New Orleans’ racist past.“We, the people of New Orleans, have the power and we have the right to correct these historical wrongs,” Landrieu said Thursday.
Opponents called upon the council to consider alternative plans. Councilwoman Stacy Head, the lone dissenter, pushed to keep some of the monuments but to add plaques to explain the history behind them, the Times-Picayune reported
“We cannot hit a delete button for the messy parts of our history,” Michael Duplantier told the council Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
But those calling for the monuments to come down invoked the legacy of slavery and racism.
Landrieu told the council Thursday: “We must reckon with our past. With eyes wide open, we should truly remember history and not revere a false version of it,” AP reported.
It will cost an estimated $170,000 to remove the monuments, and private money will fund the task, according to the mayor’s office. Most of the monuments could come down within days. The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk is under a federal court order, and the city will have to start a legal process to remove it.
The 12-foot-tall statue of Robert E. Lee is located at Lee’s Circle, a prominent position in the city’s layout and typically on the Mardi Gras parade route, according to the New Orleans Historical Society. Permission for the statue’s construction was given in 1876.