Following in the footsteps of two other city boards, the Vieux Carre Commission voted Wednesday to recommend the removal of a controversial statue celebrating a white supremacist group’s violent attempt to overthrow the state government during Reconstruction.
None of the commission members spoke before the unanimous vote, which followed comments from more than a dozen members of the public.
The monument, at the foot of Iberville Street between the Canal Place shopping mall and the Aquarium of the Americas, honors the Crescent City White League and the so-called Battle of Liberty Place, fought in 1874.
The White League, a group composed largely of Confederate veterans, sought to restore white “home rule” by ousting the state’s biracial government. The league won the Battle of Liberty Place and unseated the state’s governor, but federal troops reinstated him a few days later.
Although 27 men died and 105 were wounded in the battle on both sides, the original monument honored only those who fought for the White League.
It is one of four monuments that have come under new scrutiny as officials across the South consider whether to leave Confederate symbols in public places.
Also targeted for removal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration are a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee atop a column in Lee Circle; a statue honoring Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America, on the parkway also named for him; and a statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard in a traffic circle at the entrance to City Park.
Landrieu called for the monuments’ removal in July, citing an ordinance that allows the council to remove statues that honor, praise or foster “ideologies which are in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for citizens,” that “are or could become the site of violent demonstrations” and that generate “unjustified” maintenance costs for the city.
His request followed a shooting at a South Carolina church that left nine people dead and launched a renewed national discussion about Confederate symbols. A self-identified white supremacist, who was photographed displaying the rebel flag, is accused of shooting six black women and three black men to death at a Bible study meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Landrieu aide Scott Hutcheson told the VCC on Wednesday that the Liberty Place obelisk meets the three requirements for designation as a public nuisance and removal.
He said it honors the ideology of white supremacists, has been the site of racially charged demonstrations and has cost the city money for graffiti removal and to change the plaques adorning it to “temper the racist language.”
The Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Human Relations Commission both have recommended that all four monuments be removed. The final decision is up to the City Council, which also will receive recommendations from the City Attorney’s Office and various top officials.
The Vieux Carre Commission focused on the Liberty Place monument, the only one of the four in the French Quarter.
It was erected in 1891 and stood in the Canal Street neutral ground until it was moved to its current location in 1993. The original monument has been altered twice, first in the 1930s to add language supporting white supremacy and again in the 1990s to remove that language and honor the police officers who died in the battle.
The Vieux Carre Commission’s vote came after comments from about 15 people. The speakers were nearly evenly split between supporters and opponents of the call to remove the monument.
Larry Morgan endorsed its removal, referencing the South Carolina shooting.
“The literature that is on those monuments ... that’s the kind of literature that programmed and motivated that young boy that went into that church and killed those people,” Morgan said. “To be exposed to that, what is it going to do? It’s going to motivate them to have copycat killings of what took place in that church.”
Retired Army officer Michael Reeves said he supported taking down the White League monument even though he does not support the removal of the monuments to Lee, Beauregard and Davis.
“I think it’s divisive,” Reeves said. “I believe it’s racist. It’s as racist as the Confederate flag is.”
Doug Roome, however, said the city shouldn’t “eradicate what happened in history just because it’s a contemporary distraction or of use to the present mayoral administration.” Roome said the city should focus on issues like improving city services and safety.
James Logan, vice president of the Louisiana Landmarks Society, also argued in favor of keeping the monument where it is.
He said the offensive language has been removed from it and it should be preserved as a milepost of the city’s history.
“The fact that statues or monuments put up 100 or more years ago may bring to mind persons and events now viewed differently from a broader and contemporary perspective does not rob them of their legitimacy or historic greatness,” Logan said.