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New Orleans to remove Confederate monuments

By Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Louisiana Weekly
On January 11, 2016

New Orleans plans to remove Confederate monuments off government grounds.
Credit: observervoice.com

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – After several hours of heated debate last month, the New Orleans City Council has voted 6-1 to declare four Confederate-era monuments a nuisance, paving the way for their removal from prominent locations around the city.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Councilwoman Stacy Head.

No timetable has been set for the removal of what many Black residents have called offensive monuments, and some anticipate that the effort to remove these monuments is far from over with legal challenges to block the majority-Black Council from moving forward with its efforts.

Before the council voted in a chamber that was filled beyond capacity, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the council that the monuments should be relocated to a Civil War museum and Councilwoman Stacy Head proposed that the Liberty Monument and Jefferson Davis statue be removed while the P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee monuments be allowed to remain where they are.

A local TV newscast reported that Head’s amendment failed to get any support from the council and led to a heated exchange between the councilwoman and the mayor.

“I offered a compromise,” said Head. “Those who oppose the removal of the monuments have feelings too. We know exactly what’s going to happen today. This will not bring healing, only division.”

Head suggested that the call to remove the monuments came from the top down to which Landrieu replied, “I didn’t create this tension. You may be knowledgeable that slavery did and the Civil War did.”

Before the vote, National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial urged the City Council to vote unanimously to remove the Confederate monuments.

“The Confederate States of America waged war against the United States of America,” said Morial. “Its leaders were enemies of the United States, and its symbols are symbols of treason. A patriotic society should have no interest in revering its enemies or honoring acts of treason. I urge New Orleans City Council cleanse the city of the detritus of an inhumane institution.”

The former mayor said a unanimous vote would send a powerful message.

“There are those who say there are more important concerns facing the city right now,” said Morial. “I submit that there is nothing more important to a community than racial reconciliation.”

“As a boy at Christian Brothers School, I often walked past the P.G.T. Beauregard statues while I was learning in school about the Civil War,” he said. “I remember wondering, ‘Why is that statue still there?’ It seemed to fly in the face of everything we were being taught about the monstrousness of slavery and the staggering toll in blood and treasure that was squandered to keep it alive. That such a thing should be celebrated in the 20th century bewildered and disgusted me.”

Some Black leaders, including the Rev. Tom Watson, accused the mayor of using the debate about the removal of the monuments to distract voters from more pressing issues like violent crime, chronic unemployment among Black men and unconstitutional policing by the New Orleans Police Department which is in the midst of a federally mandated consent decree aimed at overhauling the department.

The GOP Committee said the city should keep the Confederate monuments in their current locations but add plaques to describe their historical context and erect new monuments to honor African-American heroes and trailblazers like Louisiana’s first Black Governor P.B.S Pinchback.

“Instead of tearing down history, which to me is tantamount of burning books, that we augment the landscape with other monuments to great Americans who were African American as well,” said Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee chairman and former councilman, Jay Batt.

Some Blacks were skeptical about the willingness of the city to honor Black historical figures and luminaries.

Just hours after the council vote, four organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New Orleans in an effort to block the removal of the Confederate-era monuments from their current public spaces. The lawsuit, filed by the Louisiana Landmark Society, the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the Monumental Task Committee and Beauregard Camp No. 130, contends that removing the monuments would violate several federal and state laws, including Louisiana’s constitution. The case will be handled by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

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