Three statues of Confederate officials removed from their prominent public locations in New Orleans last year would be divided up between Greenwood Cemetery on Canal Boulevard and Jefferson Davis’ former home in Mississippi under the recommendations of a task force convened by Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
The seven-member group is made up almost entirely of opponents of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s decision to take down the statues. The group has been meeting at Cantrell’s behest since April.
The committee’s suggestions, which The New Orleans Advocate obtained through a public records request, call for the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard to be moved to Greenwood while the Davis statue would end up at Beauvoir, Davis' former estate in Biloxi, Mississippi, that is now a museum.
“Placing Beauregard and Lee in Greenwood Cemetery will carry a new message to residents and visitors to the city of New Orleans,” according to the group's recommendations. “New Orleans will be viewed as a city that can deal with difficult social issues while finding suitable resolutions. New Orleans, and its leadership, will be viewed nationally as a place where art and history are valued.”
Cantrell has received and reviewed the recommendations but has made no decision on whether to follow them, spokeswoman LaTonya Norton said. The mayor will likely make a decision on these recommendations before considering any other options, Norton said.
The suggestions, particularly the call to keep two statues in the city limits, came under fire Friday from some of those who pushed for the monuments’ removal. Malcolm Suber, a leader of the group Take 'Em Down NOLA, criticized the entire process, saying it was “absurd” Cantrell would “have these meetings with these people who are proponents of keeping up white supremacist monuments.”
The minutes of one of the committee’s first meetings indicate that Cantrell hoped to have the statues relocated by early June, a month after she took office. It is not clear whether the administration still hopes to adhere to that timeline.
Landrieu first called for removing the three statues, and a fourth marker celebrating a white supremacist uprising against Louisiana’s biracial Reconstruction-era government, almost three years ago. He got City Council support for that decision in late 2015. But legal challenges kept the statues in place until last spring.
They have remained in storage since then.
The committee set up by Cantrell is made up of people who opposed removal of the statues and, in some cases, sued the city to prevent them from being taken down.
Businessman Frank Stewart publicly castigated Landrieu for his decision in a series of newspaper advertisements. Monumental Task Committee President Pierre McGraw and Tulane University professor Rick Marksbury both filed suits against the city.
Charles Marsala continues to lead an effort to get the City Charter amended to require that the removal of any statues of people who served in the military be subject to a citywide vote. The group's other members, Geary Mason and Mimi Owens, also sought to keep the statues standing.
A final member, Sally Reeves, is a board member of the Louisiana Landmarks Society. While that group sued to keep the monuments standing, Reeves said she has not personally taken a position on whether the monuments should be taken down.
Groups that sought the removal of the statues have questioned why the task force would include only one side of the hotly contentious debate, something that the committee apparently discussed.
“As a group of seven, we believe we represent a wide array of organizations and people who want to see these monuments re-erected in appropriate locations,” the group wrote in its minutes. “Given the committee’s makeup, we unanimously believe that no new members should be added.”
At Cantrell's request, the group made no suggestions on what to do with the fourth monument, an obelisk commemorating the so-called Battle of Liberty Place.
The recommended locations are not particularly surprising. Greenwood already expressed an interest in the Beauregard statue, which formerly stood about a mile away, and Beauvoir officials talked about taking one or more of the monuments, particularly the Davis statue.
According to minutes from the committee, Cantrell called on the group to make a recommendation on where to relocate the monuments with two provisos: that they not be placed on public property in New Orleans and that city funds not be used in the process.
Landrieu had suggested, but never implemented, a process in which the city would seek nonprofits or governments interested in taking the statues. But those groups would be prohibited from displaying the statues outdoors in New Orleans and would be required to “state how they will place the statues in context, both in terms of why they were first erected and why the city chose in 2015 to remove them.”
Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a group that has pushed for the removal of Confederate symbolism in the city, is blasting Cantrell for not bringing those …
Suber rejected the recommendations of the Cantrell-appointed committee, saying it’s a “no-go for us to have a resurgence and reappearance of these statues in Orleans Parish. This is a fight we’ve already had.” He also raised concerns that white supremacist groups would make pilgrimages to New Orleans to see the statues.
He called for a series of public hearings to hash out what to do with the monuments.
The recommendations envision the monuments being loaned, rather than sold or donated, to Beauvoir and Greenwood. The state constitution prohibits the city from donating property it owns; it’s unclear whether a perpetual loan would solve that problem.
Norton, the mayor's spokeswoman, said the issue of whether the city would need to be compensated for the statues is being looked into.
In a letter of intent sent to committee members, Beauvoir promised to cover the costs of the relocation but did not mention any other payments to the city.
Greenwood's owners, the nonprofit Firemen’s Charitable and Benevolent Association of New Orleans, offered to provide “extremely valuable real estate for the monuments to sit on” but said it would require some sort of outside fund to be set up to maintain the statues.
Greenwood is home to the tombs of hundreds of unknown Confederate soldiers; several mayors of New Orleans; at least three Confederate generals; William Bruce Mumford, a Confederate supporter who was hanged for tearing down a United States flag during the Union Army's occupation of New Orleans; and Union Army Brig. Gen. William Plummer Benton, who was collector of internal revenue in New Orleans after the war and died of yellow fever in 1867.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has endorsed a proposal to move three Confederate monuments that were removed from New Orleans’ cityscape last year t…
Marksbury estimated the cost of moving the two statues to Greenwood at $25,000. The group said it has been in contact with about a half-dozen crane operators that provided quotes.
Landrieu repeatedly complained that threats surrounding the monuments’ removal meant he couldn’t find crane operators anywhere in the state willing to take on the job of bringing them down.
Minutes of the meetings show a number of several other possible locations were considered, including Jefferson Parish and the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum a block from Lee Circle.
The committee also considered a recommendation that the monuments be moved to Houmas House Plantation in Ascension Parish, a plan backed recently by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Nungesser has since told the committee that he supports its recommendations, though he expressed regret that Davis would be moved out of the state, according to the group’s minutes.
In the end, the committee members said while it was regrettable that the statues were taken down, they “acknowledge and welcome (Cantrell’s) commitment to find an honorable and respectful location” for them.
“The committee hopes this matter can be concluded at our beloved city’s earliest convenience so that its more pressing problems and future needs can be addressed without distractions,” according to the recommendation.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to properly characterize the views of Sally Reeves, who said she has never taken a public position on whether the monuments should have come down. The story also said a petition drive by Charles Marsala had failed, but Marsala said he is still collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would prevent the city from removing monuments in the future without a published plan for what to do with them.