New Orleans council votes to remove monument to white supremacists

The Vieux Carre Commission and Mayor Mitch Landrieu believe the memorial to the White League, a Reconstruction-era militant group in Louisiana, should be taken down.

Gerald Herbert/AP
A monument in the French Quarter of New Orleans commemorates the Battle of Liberty Park, an 1874 rebellion against the city's biracial government. A neighborhood committee has voted to remove the memorial.

A French Quarter commission voted Wednesday to remove a 124-year-old obelisk monument dedicated to the White League's brief, and bloody, overthrow of a biracial Reconstruction government after the Civil War.

The Vieux Carre Commission voted 5-0 to remove the 35-foot-high obelisk monument which stands on the edge of the historic district. The commission governs aesthetics and bylaws in the old quarter.

The City Council must approve the removal. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called for the removal of this monument and three other prominent statues of Confederate leaders.

New Orleans joined a number of other Southern cities moving to eradicate Confederate and white supremacist symbols after the killings of nine worshippers at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina in June.

Wednesday's hearing was a tableau of lingering divisions found here over the Civil War, slavery and the meaning of the South's history.

"This is a communist act on your part," said Michel-Antoine Goitia-Nicolas, president of the Louisiana Basque American Society & Cultural Organization, as he stood before the commission.

He said historical events were being misinterpreted and that the White League was fighting an oppressive government of "dictators" and "carpet-baggers" ruling with impunity in the South.

This fight over the monuments is personal to Goitia-Nicolas. He said he is a descendant of P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general memorialized with a statue in front of City Park. That statue is on the list of those being considered for removal.

C.C. Campbell-Rock, an African-American New Orleans journalist and activist, countered that the monument "celebrates murderers" who sought to overthrow the US government. She charged supporters of the monument of practicing "revisionist history."

The monument was erected in 1891 to honor combatants with the White League — a group of prominent whites and ex-Confederates opposed to Louisiana's biracial Reconstruction government.

In a bloody uprising on Sept. 14, 1874, a mob of about 5,000 fighters with the White League stormed the French Quarter in an attempt to bring down the Reconstruction government. They were met by about 3,500 members of the integrated Metropolitan Police and state militia.

A bloody fight ensued. The White League supporters seized government buildings for a few days before they were dispersed by federal troops. In all, 16 members of the White League, 13 police officers and six bystanders were killed and more than 100 were wounded in the fight, commission staff said.

The events became known as the Battle of Liberty Place. Afterward, city leaders began commemorating the uprising and eventually the obelisk monument was erected on Canal Street, the city's main boulevard. For decades, a wreath-laying ceremony, often attended by city and state leaders, was held at the monument on Sept. 14.

Long controversial, the marble monument was removed in 1989 and then re-erected in 1993 at the spot where it stands today — an out-of-the-way corner next to train tracks and a parking lot at the edge of the Quarter.

K. Brad Ott, a professor of sociology, said he'd like to see the Liberty Place monument destroyed. It once was adorned with a plaque celebrating the end of the Reconstruction government and how that led to "white supremacy in the South and gave us our state."

Ott said: "Hopefully it ends up as ballast in a ship or destined for the construction of a Jim Crow cemetery."

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