By Ellen McGirt
April 25, 2017

After the first round of death threats, the workers decided to wear flak jackets with special helmets. They came in under the cover of night. They obscured their faces with cloth, like olde tyme bandits. Even the trucks came in disguise, the names of their owners covered with cardboard and tape. The entire process was protected by hidden police snipers, other law enforcement stood guard over barricades and waved away a small group of protesters holding candles and growling warnings of retribution.

All of this to remove an obelisk of stone, barely 35 feet high.

The Battle of Liberty Place monument was the first of four Confederate-era monuments scheduled for removal in New Orleans; by 4 a.m. Monday morning it was on its way to storage. It originally honored members of a white supremacist paramilitary group who fought against the city’s racially integrated police force in 1874. But New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has called for the removals since 2015, said the monuments are better signposts of the past than a marker of the future.

“Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else,” Landrieu said in a statement. “This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile — and most importantly– choose a better future.”

The three additional monuments – Generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis – will all end up in museums eventually. But Landrieu called the Battle of Liberty Place “the most offensive” of the four.

Today, the fight rages on, a local version of what we all must eventually face: A complicated history. “The most intellectually bankrupt argument in support of the white supremacist monuments the New Orleans City Council slated to remove declares that to remove them from the city landscape would make us guilty of rewriting history,” says Jarvis DeBerry, the deputy opinions editor for Nola.com. “Apparently, the crime of rewriting history is far worse than the crime of being a warmongering, secessionist white supremacist.”

As America struggles with its largely unexamined past, there will be more city council fights, more angry vigils and more construction workers pressed into combat-level duty. That’s what white supremacy does. It fights for its rights, often with violence. But history doesn’t have to be written in stone, and we don’t have to avoid difficult conversations because we’re afraid of the response.

The Battle of Liberty Place monument will continue to speak for itself, so I’ll give it the last word. From the inscription:

“United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

 

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