They were among the city’s oldest landmarks, as cemented to the landscape of New Orleans as the Superdome and St. Louis Cathedral: a stone obelisk heralding white supremacy and three statues of Confederate stalwarts.
But after decades standing sentinel over this Southern city, the Confederate monuments are gone, amid a controversy that at times harked back to the divisiveness of the Civil War they commemorated.
The last of the monuments — a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee defiantly facing north with his arms crossed — was lifted by a crane from its pedestal late Friday. As air was seen between Lee’s statue and the pedestal below it, a cheer went up from the crowd who recorded history with their phones and shook hands with one another in congratulations. Many in the crowd had waited since morning.
“I never thought I would see this day!” shouted Melanie Morel-Ensminger with joy. “But look! It’s happening.”
Lee’s was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It caps a nearly two-year-long process that has been railed against by those who feel the monuments are a part of Southern heritage and honor the dead. But removal of the monuments has drawn praise from those who saw them as brutal reminders of slavery and symbols of the historic oppression of black people.
Landrieu called for the monuments’ removal in the lingering emotional aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos, recharging the debate about whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
While Roof’s actions spurred a debate in many parts of the South about whether it was appropriate to fly the Confederate battle emblem — and many places have taken it down — the reaction in New Orleans seemed to go even further, knocking away at even…