New Orleans Tears Down Controversial Confederate Monuments

A 35-foot obelisk in memory of a white supremacist uprising is no more

Liberty Place
This New Orleans monument to a white supremacist riot no longer exists. Infrogmation of New Orleans - Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s been over 150 years since the Civil War and the Confederate States of America came to an end. But in many Southern cities, the legacy of the self-proclaimed country and the people who fought to preserve slavery lives on in statues, buildings and memorials to Confederate history. Now, reports the Associated Press, one of those monuments is gone—and three more will soon fall.

New Orleans removed its Battle of Liberty Place monument “under cover of darkness” on Monday, the AP reports. Monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee will also be removed soon.

The workers wore scarves, helmets and bulletproof vests and were watched by police officers stationed in a nearby hotel, reports Christopher Mele of The New York Times. Their dress reflects the acrimony that has surrounded the monuments—and their proposed removal—for over a century.

The Liberty Place marker once stood over the site of an 1874 battle between a paramilitary group of Confederate veterans and white supremacists who called themselves the Crescent City White League and a coalition of local police and state militia. It was the height of Reconstruction, and two men had claimed victory during the 1872 gubernatorial election. On one side was John McEnery, a Democrat who was supported by anti-Reconstruction Louisianans and the state’s governor. On the other was a Republican named William Pitt Kellogg, who had fought for the Union Army.

After the election, a governor-run elections board certified McEnery the winner. But Kellogg’s supporters claimed he had won and assembled their own elections board to call him winner. Both sides cited fraud and refused to accept the result. As a result, the pro-Democrat governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, was impeached by the House of Representatives (though he was never brought to trial) and the state’s lieutenant governor, an African-American named Pinckney Benton Stewart "P.B.S. Pinchback" was certified governor by President Ulysses S. Grant for the interim.

Riots and intimidation followed. Both Kellogg and McEnery refused to step aside and supporters of both swore in their own governor and formed their own opposing legislatures. Then, when Grant proclaimed Kellogg the winner, the White League refused to submit. On September 14, 1874, it tried to overthrow Kellogg, who was forced to hide inside the Customs House on Canal Street. As hundreds of policemen fired, the paramilitary group attacked the men in a minutes-long conflict that became known as “The Battle of Liberty Place.”

After killing 35 people, the rebels succeeded, and the next day Kellogg surrendered. But after a three-day-long rule of Louisiana, Grant again intervened and McEnery and his men stepped down.

Kellogg may have been named governor, but the White League and Louisianans who were unwilling to accept the outcome of the Civil War or the political participation of African-Americans reacted with violence and anger. After the contested 1876 presidential election, Reconstruction effectively came to an end when federal troops left Louisiana and the rest of the South. Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination ensued—and the battle became a rallying cry for white supremacists.

They made their position clear by erecting a 35-foot-tall obelisk at the scene of the melee, and in 1932 the monument was given a plaque that claimed that the 1877 election “recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” As Mele notes, the monument served as a flash point ever since—even after being moved and its plaque covered with another. Last year, attempts to remove the monument were thwarted after contractors were threatened.

As NOLA.coms Kevin Litten notes, the monument was removed on what some Southern states still observe as Confederate Memorial Day, though New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu denies a connection. The monuments’ removal coincides with a larger national movement to reconsider the physical legacy of the Confederacy.

"This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile— and most importantly—choose a better future," Landrieu said in a statement released on Monday, adding that the four removed statues will eventually be relocated to a museum or facility, where their place in history can be properly contextualized.

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