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.
The council’s 6-1 vote allows the city to remove four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that has stood at the center of a traffic circle for 131 years.
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. “If anybody wins here, it will be the South, because it is finally rising,” Williams, who is African-American, said.
Stacy Head, a council member at large, was the lone vote against the removal. She is one of two white council members. She lamented what she called a rush to take the monuments down without adequate consideration of their historic value and meaning to many in New Orleans.
Fixing historic injustice is “a lot harder work than removing monuments,” she said, even as many in the packed council chambers jeered her. She said the issue was dividing the city, not uniting it. “I think all we will be left with is pain and division.”
The decision came after months of impassioned debate. 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.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu first proposed taking down these monuments after police said a white supremacist killed nine parishioners inside the African-American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.