City officials announced Thursday night that the statue of Robert E. Lee would be plucked from its column in Lee Circle on Friday, making it the last and most prominent of four Confederate monuments targeted for removal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to be taken down.
The removal of the Lee statue would mark the end of nearly two years of fiery arguments and debates over the four monuments, which Landrieu and other city officials have argued were erected to reassert white dominance in New Orleans during the Jim Crow era.
It also would begin what is expected to be a lengthy process of determining what will be placed at their former locations, including Lee's prominent spot.
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Until Thursday night, city officials had refused to detail specifics of plans for the Lee monument's removal, as was the case for the previous three statues.
However, a news release sent out about 9:45 p.m. said the removal would take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday.
"No parking" signs appeared on streets around the circle Thursday morning, and New Orleans police began adding barricades near the site during the day. Meanwhile, crews began taking down the overhead power lines for the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, likely to make way for the large crane needed to remove the statue from its 68-foot-tall column.
More evidence the statue would soon be taken down came Thursday evening, when City Councilwoman Susan Guidry tweeted out an invitation to a "special address" by Landrieu "on the removal of the Confederate monuments" scheduled for Friday.
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The preparations were reminiscent of those that preceded the relocation of three other statues that Landrieu first called to be removed from public places in July 2015. The council agreed with that plan in December 2015 on a 6-1 vote.
Statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard were both removed over the past 10 days. A monument honoring the so-called Battle of Liberty Place, an insurrection by the white supremacist White League during Reconstruction, was removed in late April.
Those removals were all done at night by crews wearing body armor, helmets and masks due to security concerns caused by threats made to contractors and city employees involved in the process.
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While the previous removals have seen dozens or hundreds of protesters and on-lookers, crowds at Lee Circle were relatively sparse Thursday evening, as ominous gray storm clouds filled the sky. Small groups gathered taking pictures of the statue and portraits and selfies, but only a handful of protesters had arrived by about 8 p.m.
"No parking" signs were placed around Lee Circle forbidding any vehicle to park there after midnight, and RTA officials said the St. Charles streetcar line was on detour below Erato Street until further notice, according to a WWL-TV report.
Decent sized group of protesters gathering at Lee pic.twitter.com/MHlyjykXXs— Jeff Adelson (@jadelson) May 19, 2017
The appearance of barricades in the area is not new, as many have been at least stored near the statue for several weeks. On May 7, an anti-monuments march culminated at the site, with anti- and pro-monument protesters clashing at several points. Barricades separated the opposing groups as the march reached Lee Circle, and the demonstration — though tense — eventually dispersed peacefully.
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The Lee monument's removal was believed to pose special challenges because of its location and height.