In one of the largest protests the city has seen in years, several hundred people poured into Jackson Square on Saturday afternoon to protest the city’s failure to remove four Confederate monuments.

The protesters were met by dozens of cops behind barricades and on horseback. The area around the square’s central equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson was barricaded because protesters had announced plans to toss ropes over it and try to pull it down.

The New Orleans Police Department reported that a total of seven people were arrested, including WBOK Radio personality Chuck Perkins, who some observers said pushed back at a counter-protester who lunged at him.

On Friday, the potential of conflict at the protest was heightened when former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, a candidate in this fall's U.S. Senate race, asked his radio listeners to organize a counter demonstration to block the Take 'Em Down NOLA march.

 

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Duke did show up at Jackson Square and tried briefly to speak to the crowd Saturday. After some protesters grabbed his microphone and others chanted over his remarks, Duke left, well before the arrival of the main group of protesters, who had marched from Congo Square a few blocks away.

But after about an hour, everyone left peacefully.

Nine months after the City Council authorized their removal, legal delays have prevented the removal of four statues honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and a local Reconstruction-era militia group called the White League.

Leaders of the Take 'Em Down NOLA Coalition said Saturday’s march was meant to protest the lengthy delay in removing the four other monuments as well as to challenge the idea of honoring Jackson, a U.S. president and hero of the Battle of New Orleans but also a slave owner.

“We have given them ample time to act,” protest leader Malcolm Suber said.

The feared clash between Duke’s followers and the protesters prompted activist Tiffany Shallerhorn, 29, to stay close to her nephew, Devin Shallerhorn, 12, who had asked his aunt if he could accompany her after seeing what he considered racist sentiments expressed on television during the debate about the Confederate statues.

Devin, a sixth-grader, said that after researching Jackson's life, he didn’t want his statue to be the iconic symbol of New Orleans. “I would prefer that the city’s symbol be a heart,” he said.

The protesters' talk about taking down the Jackson statue struck a nerve with some of the day's counter-protesters, who said the threat went too far.

That’s not surprising, said Abdul Aziz, 36, who marched with the main Take 'Em Down group of a few hundred to Jackson Square.

Aziz noted how Jackson’s statue often is the image that TV networks show when football games are broadcast from New Orleans. The square and its statue also formed the backdrop for President George W. Bush’s nationally televised post-Katrina speech from the city.

“When you talk about taking down the most iconic symbol of New Orleans, you mean to elicit a response,” Aziz said.

But on Saturday, not a finger was laid on the statue itself. Metal barricades and police officers kept the protesters near the square's Decatur Street gate.

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said he saw the day as successful because everyone was able to have their say.

His officers facilitated “a peaceful protest, a peaceful demonstration to make sure everyone's free speech rights were respected,” he said. “That's when you're able to show the world what it's like to be part of a community.”

After a brief standoff inside the square, the protesters left through the Decatur Street gate and marched away, accompanied by a line of drummers and led by the voice of protest leader Angela Kinlaw, who led the crowd in chants that included one created for the day: “We can’t get no satisfaction till we take down Andrew Jackson.”

The group's leaders had expected they might be kept far from the statue and had told the protesters in advance to be prepared to march back to Congo Square.

Suber told the crowd in Congo Square why Jackson was the day’s target. He noted the 150 slaves Jackson owned at the time of his death and described him as the “architect of the Trail of Tears,” the forced removal of American Indians from the southeastern United States nearly 200 years ago.

“If there’s anyone undeserving of adulation, it’s Andrew Jackson,” Suber said.

Inside Jackson Square, Eddie Miller, 52, stood with a Wikipedia printout listing presidents who had owned slaves and tried to convince protesters that taking down Jackson's statue wouldn’t solve bigger problems.

As the child of mixed-race parents, one black, one white, Miller said he is no stranger to racism, but he said this level of energy could be better used in working to improve struggling communities. “This is a waste of time to me,” Miller said, pointing at the line of protesters.

Take 'Em Down NOLA released two demands Saturday that addressed concerns of critics like Miller.

In addition to taking down the city’s “monuments to white supremacy,” they also had a new demand: that the city raise or reallocate $5 million per year to a “Build 'Em Up NOLA” initiative that would create jobs for black youth, erect historical markers to more accurately celebrate the city’s history, and support black artists and historians in creating narratives and images about that history.

Back at Congo Square afterward, Suber asked everyone to gather again outside the federal courthouse Wednesday morning, when judges are scheduled to consider a lawsuit that has prevented the other four statues from being removed.

But even if the judges rule that the Confederate monuments can come down, Suber pledged that the focus on Andrew Jackson would remain.

“That statue is going to come down. We promise you that,” he said.

Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.