NEW ORLEANS — Joining the burgeoning movement in the South to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public spaces, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu submitted a formal proposal Thursday that would begin the process for removing four Confederate monuments.
Landrieu has asked the council to hold a public hearing to determine whether statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate General PGT Beauregard, and a monument to the Battle of Liberty Place should be relocated. During the Battle of Liberty Place, a white supremacist militia known as the White League and consisting largely of Confederate veterans violently overthrew the Reconstruction-era government in New Orleans until Federal troops arrived to reassert control over the city.
The mayor has asked that the monuments are replaced with "symbols that reflect the culture, unity, hope and future of New Orleans as the city looks to its 300th anniversary in 2018," according to a news release from the city.
In a 10-minute address at the wooden podium that faces the council, Landrieu briefly covered the history of the men honored by the monuments, and then called on the council to accept his proposal.
"The monuments were erected at a time when supremacy was the order of the day," Landrieu said. "But a lot has changed since the Civil War. Supremacy is a part of our past. But it should not be part of our future.
The six council members later unanimously voted to approve the proposal.
Calls to remove Confederate symbols from public spaces have been amplified since nine people were killed last month at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect, Dylann Roof, had posted multiple pictures online of himself posing with the flag, as well as as online manifesto about white supremacy. Two activists were later arrested outside the Capitol on June 27 for climbing the flag pole and removing the Confederate flag.
Landrieu's request came on the day South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill to remove the Confederate battle flag that has flown for more than 50 years on statehouse grounds. The flag will be taken down at 10 a.m. on Friday, a Haley spokesperson told the Associated Press.
The movement to take down Confederate symbols has also gathered momentum with politicians in a number of Southern states, including Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. Landrieu and his staff, however, say they've been considering the removal of the Lee statue for more than a year.
On June 24, Lee told a crowd that he wanted to rename Lee Circle and remove the monument. He credited his shift in opinion on a conversation with renowned jazz musician — and New Orleans native — Wynton Marsalis.
"I don't like the fact that Lee Circle is named Lee Circle," Landrieu recalled Marsalis saying. When the mayor asked why, Marsalis responded, "Let me help you see it through my eyes. Who is he? What does he represent? And in that most prominent space in the city of New Orleans, does that space reflect who we were, who we want to be or who we are?"
Said Landrieu on Thursday: "These ideals have never belonged in a city as great as New Orleans."
Following Landrieu's address to the council, about 20 people approached the podium to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting. Only a handful of them — all of them white — spoke in support of preserving the monuments.
"The history of everyone is important," Joey Cargol said. "I think this is a horrible slippery slope. Erasing history doesn't get you anywhere."