Early Wednesday, just hours after Louisiana’s Republican-dominated House advanced a bill prohibiting the removal of virtually any plaque, monument, memorial or statue connected to a war or military service before a referendum, work crews in New Orleans peeled a 102-year-old mounted statue of Confederate Gen. P.T.G. Beauregard from his stone pedestal at the entrance to New Orleans City Park.
The monument is the third of four Confederate memorials the New Orleans City Council voted in 2015 to be removed from prominent locations around the city. Monument removals have been delayed by a host of competing historical arguments, litigation in state and federal courts, protests, threats and, in one case, the handiwork of an arsonist. The heated debate over the statues has brought national media spotlight, given new life to a whole range of factually inaccurate claims about the Civil War, and drawn many monument defenders and protesters to a city where many locals say they are accustomed to crowds but not open conflict.
The workers who removed the Beauregard statue around 3 a.m. Wednesday went about their job in face-concealing gear and under the protection of both mounted police and police snipers, according to witnesses at the scene.
New Orleans Police are investigating threats made by monument defenders against contractors involved in various aspects of the removal plan. A sports car belonging to a contractor who bid on one of the removal jobs was set ablaze, police said. Others have received threatening phone calls. Because of security concerns, city officials have refused to identify specific dates or times for the removals. The three removals that have taken place thus far took shape in the early morning hours, long before sunrise.
But on Tuesday evening, a number of people knew of the Beauregard statue’s pending removal. Police blocked off streets and parking areas, and erected barricades. Crews brought heavy equipment, including a crane, to the area near the 1,300-acre parkland space known as City Park, city officials confirmed. The Beauregard statue occupied a traffic circle near the entrance to City Park, a space that also is home to an oak tree that is reportedly 800 years old and has a colorful local history, which includes balls, fairs and duels. On Tuesday, the area around City Park became a gathering space for monument defenders waving Confederate and American flags, and those who want to see the monuments removed. Police worked to keep the two groups apart. The Times Picayune reported a single scuffle, but no arrests.
Wednesday’s action leaves just one Confederate monument slated for removal in New Orleans. An elevated statue of the man who was, perhaps, the Confederacy’s best-known military figure and the man who surrendered to the Union Army, Gen. Robert E. Lee, remains at the center of a busy traffic circle near the city’s riverfront.
The measure requiring an election to remove commemorative objects connected to America’s armed conflicts — including as the bill puts it, “the War Between the States” — is slated for a reading in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate, a preliminary step before any vote.