New Orleans Mayor Delivers Remarks At Removal Of Confederate Statue

12 hours ago
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In New Orleans, the last of four Confederate monuments is being taken down - today the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. People have gathered there all day. Music's been playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: And this is happening in Lee Circle. It ends years of controversy and court battles to remove the symbols of the Civil War. We're joined now by reporter Laine Kaplan-Levenson of member station WWNO. And Laine, to start, unlike the three previous monuments which were taken down in the middle of the night - this is an ongoing story - this happening started during the day. So why the shift?

LAINE KAPLAN-LEVENSON, BYLINE: You know, it's hard to say. It's been very contentious down here. And the first three monuments that came down - the city had given no advance notice on when that was happening or what time. But they were all done in the middle of the night when, you know, fewer people are awake. The workers that have removed these monuments have received death threats, and so they've been wearing masks to protect themselves and remain anonymous while they're doing that. And then today is different. This is happening in the light of day. And one of the reasons might be that, you know, this is perhaps one of the best-known of the four. It's in downtown New Orleans. It's where Mardi Gras parades roll by in the city.

So, you know, supporters that have been very for the monuments being removed - they've been really pushing the city to do this in the light of day and not do it in the middle of the night, which could be another reason. And you know, it's the biggest one. And it's probably the hardest to take down and take so long, so they had to start last night into today.

CORNISH: And this has drawn some national attention and been particularly divisive in New Orleans. Talk about that.

KAPLAN-LEVENSON: Yeah, well, you know, this is really about race. It's about the Confederacy. It's about the Civil War. It's about the history of our country and different ways that people learn that history and retain that history. So that's what makes this really, really complicated. I mean there are people down here who have actual family ties to some of these monuments, and that makes it extra personal to them.

This afternoon, Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave - he held a press conference. And he was very passionate speaking about the Confederacy and saying plainly that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of history. That's how he defended the city's decision to remove these monuments. And here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MITCH LANDRIEU: To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places in honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.

KAPLAN-LEVENSON: You know, that's Mayor Landrieu saying that this removal process should send a message to the residents of New Orleans and future generations that it's not just about taking the monuments down, but it's about changing public opinion.

CORNISH: And of course there have been protest about the removal of these monuments. And what happened today around that?

KAPLAN-LEVENSON: You know, it was a little bit different today. For the past three monuments, there's been many supporters and protesters out there arguing, sometimes getting in verbal and physical fights, people getting arrested. Today there were mostly people that were in support of the Robert E. Lee monument coming down. It's been pretty peaceful, as you mentioned before, music playing. People are sitting in lawn chairs. And you know, but there are some people that are still opposed to it. And I met one of those people today named Michael Rochelle.

MICHAEL ROUCHELL: Rather than taking stuff down, leave the stuff that's there. That's in the past. We can learn from it. But let's build more monuments. The more we have, the less important these become.

KAPLAN-LEVENSON: So people really feel both ways about it.

CORNISH: That's Laine Kaplan-Levenson of member station WWNO in New Orleans. Thanks so much.

KAPLAN-LEVENSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.