Cain Burdeau, AP, December 16, 2015
New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as city leaders decide whether to remove prominent monuments from some of its busiest streets.
With support from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a majority on the City Council appears ready to take down four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Their ordinance has sparked passionate responses for and against these symbols, and both sides will get one more say at a special council meeting before Thursday’s vote.
If approved, this would be one of the most sweeping gestures yet by an American city to sever ties with Confederate history.
“This has never happened before,” said Charles Kelly Barrow, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “I’ve never heard of a city trying to sweep (away) all Confederate monuments.”
Geographers have identified at least 872 parks, natural features, schools, streets and other locations named for major Confederate leaders in 44 states, according to a mapping project. Barrow said more than a thousand statues and monuments and countless plaques also honor Confederate battles and heroes.
In New Orleans, the mayor asked the council to take a closer look at monuments that have long been part of the city’s landscape.
The most imposing has had a commanding position over St. Charles Avenue since 1884: A 16-foot-tall bronze statue of Lee stands atop a 60-foot-high Doric marble column, which itself rises over granite slabs on an earthen mound. Four sets of stone staircases, aligned with the major compass points, ascend the mound.
Also up for removal is a bronze figure of the Confederate president that now stands at Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway, and a more local hero, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who straddles a prancing horse at the entrance to City Park. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was born in St. Bernard Parish, and commanded Confederate forces at the war’s first battle.
The most controversial is an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League. An inscription added in 1932 said the Yankees withdrew federal troops and “recognized white supremacy in the South” after the group challenged Louisiana’s biracial government after the Civil War. In 1993, these words were covered by a granite slab with a new inscription, saying the obelisk honors “Americans on both sides” who died and that the conflict “should teach us lessons for the future.”