The Current

Amid death threats, New Orleans dismantles Civil War statues at night

New Orleans is removing statues honouring slave-owning Confederates of the U.S. Civil War. But it's not without controversy.
Workers take down statue at night; boos and cheers heard from crowds 0:40

Tensions are running high as the city of New Orleans removes four statues of representatives of the Confederate side in the Civil War. In fact, the monuments are being taken down in the middle of the night to mute conflict.

On May 17, the third statue was removed just shortly after 3 a.m. with contractors removing the monument of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard wearing face coverings and bulletproof vests after the city received death threats.

To those who want them taken down, the statues represent white supremacy and the injustices of the past. 
The statue of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was removed from the entrance to City Park in New Orleans, May 16, 2017 — the third of four monuments city officials plan to take down across the city. (Scott Threlkeld/Associated Press)

"These monuments were put in place during the Jim Crow era to assert that whites were in control of the politics of the south," says Malcolm Suber, an organizer with Take 'Em Down NOLA

Suber has worked for decades to have the statues removed and is glad to see them go — although he would have liked to see it happen in daylight, as a celebration. 

"We think that this was a kowtow to the racist and white supremacists who came to town brandishing a weapon and making threats," Suber tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti of the nighttime removal.

Suber does not believe that removing the statues erases part of the country's history.

"This is fundamentally a question of who controls the public land spaces in our cities ... We will embrace a different future. And that's why it's important for the race and the struggles today," he says.
Edward Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. He issued the so-called scalping proclamation the same year, in which he offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

In Halifax, some are advocating for the removal of the statue of Edward Cornwallis, one of the city's founders — but also an advocate for the extermination of Mi'kmaq people.

"He's a symbol of barbarity from the past," says Mi'kmaq historian Daniel Paul.

"You're not taking him out of history books, people still read about him. But you show me a plaque anywhere around there that says that that man tried to exterminate the Mi'kmaq people — it's not there."

For more than 25 years, Mi'kmaq historian Daniel Paul has been calling for the statue of Edward Cornwallis to fall. (Mary-Catherine McIntosh/CBC)

Around the world, statues have been toppled from Baghdad to Ukraine to — recently — Venezuela.

Kirk Savage, who has looked at the history of monument removal, says the events fall into two broad categories.

"[In some cases] you're talking about regime change. You see a lot of anger," Savage says, author of Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America.

"[Other statues are] monuments to white supremacy, which is something that is ongoing and and we haven't yet grappled with or found a solution to… It's an ongoing fight," he tells Tremonti.

Savage says that even if most of us walk by statues in the street without noticing them, they remain powerful symbols.

"They carry a lot of authority," explains Savage.

"[Statues] seem to represent the kind of popular will of the community. And that's why they're so divisive now, and remain so important."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Halifax network producer Mary-Catherine McIntosh.