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…