May 20, 2017
By Jonathan Bachman
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Crews in New Orleans on Friday used a crane to lift a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee off its pedestal as the city removed the last of four monuments its leaders see as racially offensive.
Most of a crowd of about 200 people cheered just after 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) as the bronze figure of Lee with crossed arms was pulled from atop a 60-foot marble column in the center of a busy traffic circle.
A few hours earlier, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was half a mile away speaking to an audience that included civil rights leaders, city officials and activists, saying the statues celebrated “the lost cause of the Confederacy.”
Unlike at a removal earlier this month, there were no clashes between supporters and opponents of the statues, other than shouted taunts.
As they had been in all of the previous removals, workers wore bulletproof vests, long sleeves to disguise their skin color and face coverings to shield their identity.
Landrieu said the four monuments were out of step with a modern city that embraces people of all races while acknowledging that New Orleans was also once one of the biggest slave markets in America.
“We cannot be afraid of the truth,” said Landrieu, who along with other city leaders decided to take down the monuments in 2015, a decision that withstood challenges in federal court.
He called them “symbols of white supremacy” and a part of a movement “to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”
Also on Friday, in Alabama, the legislature sent a bill to the desk of Governor Kay Ivey that would prohibit the removal of monuments on public property that have been in place for at least 20 years.
Eileen Jones, a spokeswoman for Ivey, said as of Friday afternoon, Ivey had not decided whether to sign the bill into law.
Since May 11, crews in New Orleans have removed monuments to Jefferson Davis, president of the pro-slavery Confederacy and P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general.
In April a monument was taken down that commemorated an 1874 attack on the racially integrated city police and state militia by a white supremacist group called the Crescent City White League.
“(The monuments) were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in the shadows (of them) about who was still in charge in this city,” Landrieu said.
Earlier this month, dozens of supporters of the monuments clashed with hundreds of demonstrators near the site of the Lee statue. The resistance to their removal was from those who argue the monuments are important symbols of the city’s Southern heritage.
At the previous three removals, the statue proponents carried Confederate flags but none were prominently displayed on Friday.
More than 100 supporters of the removals were on hand listening to a jazz band, not unlike behavior at city parks in New Orleans on any Friday.
Landrieu spokeswoman Erin Burns said the city will hold the monuments and consider proposals to move them to government or non-profit entities.
The city has said it will leave intact the marble column where Lee’s statue had been and upgrade the circle of land around it.
The Lee monument was dedicated in 1884 on the birthday of the first U.S. president, George Washington.
The Confederacy was made up of states that attempted to preserve slavery in the South and secede from the United States in the Civil War of 1861 to 1865.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Catherine Evans and Bill Trott)
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