As crews worked into the afternoon to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from its towering pedestal in Lee Circle, Mayor Mitch Landrieu took to the podium a few blocks away at Gallier Hall and pressed his case again that removing the Confederate general was about righting a historic wrong.
“The Civil War is over; the Confederacy lost and we are better for it," Landrieu said.
“To literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future."
His speech at the historic building, just down the street from where a crane had been positioned to remove the last and most prominent of four monuments to Confederate leaders and a white Reconstruction-era uprising, was yet another attempt to cast as just and necessary a move that will partly define his legacy.
The city of New Orleans will take down a prominent statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee …
It was also another attempt to turn conversation about the monuments toward their future, a day after the city provided new details about what will happen to the statues and the sites on which they have sat for years.
The controversial decision, approved by a 6-1 City Council vote in 2015, has sparked two years of litigation, bitter disputes between members of rival factions and a legislative effort to block the removal of other similar monuments in the future.
That effort, House Bill 71, caused members of the Louisiana Black Caucus to walk out this week in protest after the bill passed the House.
It has made Landrieu a target of critics who say removing the monuments is a misguided attempt to rewrite history, will not solve any of the city’s problems and are an insult to Confederate war leaders and their descendants.
And it has cast even more doubt on the term-limited Democrat’s already-uncertain political future in Louisiana, as it angered many white people around the heavily Republican state.
City officials announced Thursday night that the statue of Robert E. Lee would be plucked fr…
But on Friday, Landrieu, whose name cropped up in one recent report someone who might be considering the presidency, remained undeterred. New Orleans residents “elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like,” he said to city officials and other onlookers.
The statutes of Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and a battle fought by a white supremacist militia “purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for,” the mayor added.
Update, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 16, 2017: Legislative black caucus says Confederate monument…
Focusing on the future, he filled parts of his speech with rhetorical questions, asking the audience whether it would be able to explain to a black child why a representation of Lee sits atop one of the most prominent spaces in the city.
“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” he said.
And he acknowledged one of the more popular contentions of his critics: If New Orleans fails to take steps to remedy race relations and other ills even after the monuments’ removal, “all of this would have been in vain,” he said.
Finally, the state is starting to play a productive role in the New Orleans monument mess.
His speech came a day after city officials announced new plans for what will happen to the sites where the monuments stood.
The 68-foot-high column on which Lee stood, for example, will stay in place as the city works to incorporate a water feature at the Lee site. The Jefferson Davis Parkway site that once held Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ statue will be replaced by an American flag; while the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, a white supremacist uprising against the state’s Reconstruction-era government, will sit vacant.
The city expects to seek proposals from nonprofits or governments interested in taking those three monuments. It will not accept proposals that would call for the statues to be displayed outdoors in Orleans Parish.
City Park officials will decide what should replace the statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, which long sat at the entrance of the park. Though in court case earlier this month, city officials balked at the idea that City Park owns the land or statute, those sentiments appear to have changed.
It’s unclear whether Landrieu will make good on his earlier proposal to try to change the name of Jefferson Davis Parkway to Dr. Norman C. Francis Parkway, or change that street to some other name.
Also unclear is whether the city will change the names of Robert E. Lee Boulevard or Lee Circle, which is technically the name of only the center of the traffic circle and not the street itself.
Read the full speech, below: