Federal lawsuit filed to stop removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans
Down with General Lee? New Orleans will remove Confederate monuments (+video).
CHICAGO: New Orleans will remove four Confederate statues from city streets after months of heated debate about how to commemorate US history without glorifying slavery, local media reported Thursday. NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans’ leaders on Thursday made a sweeping move to break with the city’s Confederate past when the City Council voted to remove prominent Confederate monuments along some of its busiest streets. Confederate symbols and monuments have long been controversial in the United States, where they are beloved by some residents of the once slave-owning southern states which seceded during the 1861-1865 Civil War, but reviled by those who see them as racist. The Louisiana Landmarks Society, Foundation for Historical Louisiana, Monumental Task Committee and Beauregard Camp No. 130 on Thursday challenged the City Council’s vote to remove the structures and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s approval of the ordinance.
An attack by a white supremacist on a historic black church in Charleston, North Carolina that left nine people dead in June renewed debate over the symbols after images emerged of the shooter holding the Confederate flag. Lee in a traffic circle, named Lee Circle, in the city’s central business district since 1884, and an obelisk in the French Quarter to recognize the Battle of Liberty Place [will be removed]. Last summer, officials in New Orleans began considering the removal of several monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders along a busy thoroughfare in the city. It was an emotional meeting — often interrupted by heckling — infused with references to slavery, lynchings and racism, as well as the pleas of those who opposed removing the monuments to not “rewrite history.” City Council President Jason Williams called the vote a symbolic severing of an “umbilical cord” tying the city to the offensive legacy of the Confederacy and the era of Jim Crow laws.
Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League, which challenged Louisiana’s biracial government after the Civil War. The Confederate battle flag has been widely used by white supremacy groups, and the man charged with the shooting previously had posed for photographs with the battle flag. During the last several months, many governments and universities in the South have begun removing Confederate battle flags from state capitols and eradicating or replacing monuments with ties to the Confederacy. “It would be better for all our children, black and white, to see symbols in prominent places in our city that make them feel proud of their city and inspire them to greatness,” Landrieu told the New Orleans City Council in July.
On Thursday, four preservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the city from taking down the monuments by challenging the city’s removal process. While Confederate figures still remain an emblem of white Southern pride, changing demographics and political tides are causing a rapid shift in perception. Anti-Confederate sentiment has grown since then around the country, along with protests against police mistreatment, as embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The city says it plans to put the monuments in a warehouse until officials decide where they should be put in the future — perhaps in a museum or a park. The council will first need to pass an ordinance declaring the monuments a public nuisance. “It is a grand scale of symbolic rewriting of the landscape,” Derek Alderman, a geographer at the University of Tennessee who is mapping Confederate symbolism nationwide, told The Associated Press. “It certainly represents a wholesale re-questioning of the legitimacy of remembering the Confederacy so publicly.” He used President Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Landrieu signed the new ordinance into law shortly after the vote.
Anglim told those gathered Thursday to “do the right thing.” Activist Malcolm Suber called the monuments “products of the Jim Crow era, an era when blacks were hunted and persecuted.” Others said they want the council to go even further and change street names associated with “white supremacy.” The most imposing of the monuments the council has voted to strike from the cityscape 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. The council members’ sentiments echo the emotions in the public, and those supporting the removal are applauded loudly while the two who have spoken against the removal are heckled.
Another City Council member, James Gray, says the monuments do not reflect the true history of New Orleans, a city he says was mostly on the side of the Union and not the Confederacy. 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.” Before the vote, council member Head asked to keep the large monuments to Lee and Beauregard in place. Landrieu says a commission should be established to consider creating a park where the city’s history — and the removed monuments — can be explained. A majority of council members and the mayor support removing four major monuments, which would be one of the strongest gestures yet by American city to sever ties with Confederate history.
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