Crowds gathered behind barricades in New Orleans on Friday to watch as workers began the hours-long process of removing a towering statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
It is the last of four Confederate-era monuments that New Orleans pledged to remove amid a swirl of controversy. Lee’s is the most prominent of the four — a 20-foot bronze statue atop a roughly 60-foot tall column in Lee Circle.
NOLA.com is broadcasting live video of the removal.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu began pushing for the monuments’ removal in 2015 after Dylann Roof massacred nine black Charleston church-goers. The New Orleans City Council approved the move later that year.
On April 24, a monument to a deadly 1874 white-supremacist uprising was the first to come down. A couple of weeks later, a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was toppled. And on Wednesday, a statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was removed.
But clearing out the monuments — which have loomed for more than 100 years — has been highly controversial. Contractors have received death threats, and Landrieu told The Washington Post. that nearly every heavy-crane company in southern Louisiana was also threatened.
The first three removals took place in the dark of night; workers wore flak jackets and protesters both for and against the process picketed nearby. The statue of Lee — who surrendered the Confederate Army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, effectively ending the Civil War — is the first to be taken down in the light of day.
While some residents believe the monuments should be preserved lest history be forgotten, Landrieu said, “It’s my job to chart the course ahead, not simply to venerate the past.”