NEW ORLEANS — May 19, 2017, 11:16 PM ET

In New Orleans, Confederate monuments are gone _ Lee last

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They were among the city's oldest landmarks, as cemented to the landscape of New Orleans as the Superdome and St. Louis Cathedral: a stone obelisk heralding white supremacy and three statues of Confederate stalwarts.

But after decades standing sentinel over this Southern city, the Confederate monuments are gone, amid a controversy that at times hearkened back to the divisiveness of the Civil War they commemorated.

The last of the monuments — a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee facing defiantly north with his arms crossed — was lifted by a crane from its pedestal late Friday. As air was seen between Lee's statue and the pedestal below it, a cheer went out from the crowd who recorded the history with their phones and shook hands with each other in congratulations. Many in the crowd had waited since morning.

"I never thought I would see this day!" shouted Melanie Morel-Ensminger with joy. "But look! It's happening."

Lee's was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It caps a nearly two-year-long process that has been railed against by those who feel the monuments are a part of Southern heritage and honor the dead. But removal of the monuments has drawn praise from those who saw them as brutal reminders of slavery and symbols of the historic oppression of black people.

Landrieu called for the monuments' removal in the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos, recharging the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.

While Roof's actions spurred a debate in many parts of the South about whether it was appropriate to fly the Confederate battle emblem — and many places have taken it down — the reaction in New Orleans seemed to go even further, knocking away at even weightier, heavier parts of history.

Landrieu drew blistering criticism from monument supporters and even some political allies. But in explaining his reasoning, the mayor has repeatedly said they do not represent the diversity and future of New Orleans.

"These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for," he said Friday.

"After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism, as much as burning a cross on someone's lawn. They were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city," he added.

Of the four monuments, Lee's was easily the most prominent: The bronze statue alone is close to 20 feet (6 meters) tall. It's a bronze sculpture of Lee looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall column.

It's not massive like the Superdome or alluring like Bourbon Street, but Lee in his uniform was a familiar landmark for tourists and commuters alike.

Lee's removal was planned during the day, and announced in advance. Earlier removals happened after nightfall, a precautionary measure due to security concerns for contractors and workers involved in the effort. Landrieu said the change was out of safety concerns because the statue was close to electrical wires and New Orleans' famous streetcar lines.

The atmosphere Friday was almost festive as dozens of people, some with lawn chairs, came out to see what many called history in the making.

"If you can see history as it happens, it's more meaningful," said Al Kennedy, who supported the removal. Speaking of the Confederate past, he said: "It's my history, but it's not my heritage."

But others criticized the move.

"Mayor Landrieu and the City Council have stripped New Orleans of nationally recognized historic landmarks," said the Monumental Task Committee, an organization that maintains monuments and plaques across the city. "With the removal of four of our century-plus aged landmarks, at 299 years old, New Orleans now heads in to our Tricentennial more divided and less historic."

The city turns 300 in 2018.

In 2015, the City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monuments after a succession of contentious public meetings. Contractors involved in the removal process have been threatened; statue supporters sued repeatedly to keep the statues up.

At last, a court decision cleared the way for the April removal of what is likely the most controversial of the monuments — seen as an overt tribute to white supremacy. Statues to the Confederacy's only president Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard followed in quick succession until only Lee was left.

Attention now shifts to where the monuments will go and what will take their place.

The city announced an outline of its plans late Thursday. It said it 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 nonprofits 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.

The city plans to leave the column at Lee's Circle intact and will mount public art in its place.

An American flag will stand where the Davis statue used to be, and the area where the Liberty Place monument used to stand "will remain as is." The City Park Improvement Association, civic groups and the city will decide what will go where the Beauregard statue once stood.

The city wants to finish the work during its tricentennial year.

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Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Jesse J. Holland in Washington contributed to this report.

News - In New Orleans, Confederate monuments are gone _ Lee last

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  • Harold Ashe

    Now that Gen. Lee has been removed, we can say that the Civil War never happened. /s

  • BR Deal

    Erasing history that's disliked isn't the answer. We jumped up and down when the Taliban did it in Afghanistan and ISIS in iraq yet we celebrate it here. What's the diff?

  • Coffeeman Returns

    Yes, remove history. Maybe we'll learn after the Second Civil War. Coming soon to a street near you!!

  • No one you know

    When I took a trip to New Orleans a few years back, I accidentally came upon Lee's Circle and this prominent monument. I was in awe, and approaching it from the back I asked a passer-by who it was. She said it was Robert E. Lee and I was dumfounded. I said NFW and she said yes indeed. It sent chills down my spine to think that the people here still glorified Lee in this grandiose manner. I am so glad to see that it is gone, and that it left peacefully with minimal protest.

  • dontcare1wayortheother

    Robert E Lee of his own free will gave up his personal property under no pressure or requirement to do so for the creation of the National Cemetery known as ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY. Should we dig everyone up and move them elsewhere lest some chuckleheads among us gets offended???

  • Paul

    Forger about right and wrong. History is history. Monuments represents history. Why need to remove them so long after. It proves that Americans are more racist to solve problem by destroying or moving monuments because it represents slavery.. ISIS destroyed monuments because they see it worshiping devil in Syria.

  • Aaron Dettmer

    Did anyone else know that they have WWII memorials in Germany and Japan?

  • Edup McD

    The South did rise again! Notice how high the statues were lifted by cranes, then nicely put down & covered ...
    History will always remember the South as the land of slave owners, lynchings & racism that started the American Civil War as well as continued on quietly till the uprising of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement ...
    Racism is still very much alive in the US sadly under the eyes of Lady Liberty ...
    In today's schools, kids will learn our shameful Southern history including the next chapter of racism presently being made across the country ...
    None will be forgotten nor do we need any offensive stautes of this type as reminders ...

  • Three Stooges

    I am not a southerner, I prefer to think I was on the right side of he winning side but I have to wonder who are they going to go after next, General Custer? or are they going to blame General Grant for sending General Sheridan west?

  • gene poole

    This is so stooopid. So we should only have statues of people that ideally fit our agenda and beliefs in 2017? Complete idiocy. Going back hundreds of years (or longer) who is going to fit that mold and who decides which mold to use? As a black man, this kind of stuff is an embarassment, as is white folks that think they're helping us poor, helpless black folk. What a joke.
    Truly educated people already know that all major colors/races at some time in their history were slaves and also enslaved others eventually. You want to see true racism based on color, go to Africa. I'm talking about light colored (high color) blacks versus dark colored blacks.
    Been there, saw that, moved on.

  • Rick

    Shame on the city of New Orleans. What a pitiful display of moral cowardice on the part of the city's so called "leaders". Disgusting, simply disgusting.

  • boyscout

    Look the south has secretly risen and not only taken over the country but they are the military industrial complex too. I am sure they are not worried about a few old statues.

  • Tn Toddy

    HERE YA GO NEW CHANNELS IF YOU GOT THE GUTS. SHARE BOTH SIDES OF THE PROBLEM-- HISTORY IS HISTORY, YOU CANT CHANGE IT TO FIT YOUR NEEDS. THEN I THINK WE SHOULD REMOVE DR.KING, ROSA PARKS, LINCOLN, there are so many out there, but if you insist to not get along just because of a damn flag or statue then you are stupid. there is history on both sides--you cant have it only one way and the news wont report the real news ever. the rest of you wont grow up. if someone pisses you off you jump in with riots and tear everything up. I was going to visit some of these states to see some of the history (both sides) so I knew a lot more about it. well guess I wont be wasting my hard earned dollar to go there now, nothing left to see. so I guess all those states lose out on money that would come their way. I guess you people do not want it to ever be any better for your children's future. cause this kind of stuff will only drive it wider apart!

  • Frank_in_Spokane

    George Orwell, call your office.

  • DavidAK

    It is a little late to go with revisionist history. Taking down monuments doesn't eliminate the Civil War.

  • Walking Fool

    This is stupid. You cannot change history.

    How about if the Germans decided to bulldoze the concentration camps, as if they never happened. Or what about editing out Mickey Rooney in, Breakfast At Tiffany's where he played some awful stereotype of some Asian guy? When does it stop? For good or bad, it happened folks, you cannot change or erase history.

    Didn't the Taliban destroy the giant Buddha? Sound familiar?

  • Forsaken Perared

    makes it easier to stay out of the "politically correct" southern states.