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Another delay in efforts to remove monuments

31st May 2016   ·   0 Comments

It’s been a year since the City of New Orleans seriously considered removing four Confederate-era monuments from public spaces across the city. But after a vote by the New Orleans City Council in December to remove the Battle of Liberty Place monument and statues of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard and a slew of challenges in federal and civic court and the state legislature, it appears that the effort to remove these “nuisances” has hit another snag.

After already extending the deadline for submitting bids several times and making changes to the City of New Orleans website to shield prospective bidders from harassment and intimidation campaigns by monument supporters, the Landrieu administration has decided to do away with its request for bids on the monument-removal project, citing a federal court order.

The bids were scheduled to be open on Monday, May 23, but the Landrieu administration backed away from moving forward with the bidding process until the matter is resolved in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Efforts to remove the Confederate-era monuments were put on hold on March 25 when the Fifth Circuit issued an order that the monuments remain in their present locations while the court considers another challenge by monument supporters.

While grassroots community organizations and civil rights groups have been calling for the removal of those racially offensive monuments since the early years of the 20th century, the City of New Orleans didn’t give the issue serious consideration until it was brought up at a Welcome Table event by the current administration last June.

After months of heated debate, the New Orleans City Council voted in December to remove the monuments, but not before Councilmembers Stacy Head and Latoya Cantrell objected strongly to the issue being brought up and said the monuments weren’t an issue with residents until the Landrieu administration made it one.

The ordinance passed with a 6-1 vote with Councilmember Head as the sole dissenting vote.

Hours after the council vote, the City of New Orleans’ plans to remove the four monuments was unsuccessfully challenged in federal court by four groups. A similar effort in civil court was rejected shortly thereafter. Two bills were authored this spring by state legislators but were rejected by panels before they could be voted on by the entire legislature.

In January, a city attorney said in federal court that a Baton Rouge-based contractor backed out of the statue-removal project after he and his wife received death threats and some of H&O Investments’ clients threatened to cancel their existing contracts with the company if it participated in the statue-removal project.

Days later, the company owner’s Lamborghini was set aflame by someone as it sat overnight in the company’s parking lot. No evidence has been found to link the destruction of the car to the statue-removal project.

Also, a group called Save Our Circle encouraged members and monument supporters to contact prospective bidders and express dissatisfaction with their interest in the project. That led to changes to the City’s website that concealed the names and contact information from visitors to the website.

The City of New Orleans had originally scheduled the bidding process to begin on March 29 but extended the solicitation period to allow additional companies interested in the project to gather information and express their interest. The deadline was extended again on April 22 because of the upcoming Fifth Circuit Court hearing.

Last week, rather than extend the deadline again, the City of New Orleans decided to nix its bid request altogether.

A spokesman for the City of New Orleans told that once the case is resolved in federal court, the City would essentially start the process over and move forward with plans to remove the monuments from public spaces.

“Throughout this process, the safety of potential bidders has been paramount,” the Landrieu administration said in a statement. “Due to previous violence and threats during the bid process, we will wait to re-advertise the project until we feel confident a resolution in the court is near and a contractor can be publicly procured so that monuments may be relocated without further delay.”

The most recent efforts to remove the Confederate-era monuments come two decades after community activists and grassroots and civil rights organizations convinced the Orleans Parish School Board to remove the names of slaveholders from the city’s public schools.

The name of one former slaveholder, however, continues to cast a long shadow over the city’s public schools as McDonogh 35, the state’s oldest college preparatory high school for Blacks, opted to keep its name because of the rich historical legacy associated with the school.

John McDonogh Senior High School, named for the slaveowner who donated a portion of his estate to public schools in New Orleans and Baltimore upon his death, also kept its name along with several local elementary schools in the city.

Those who support efforts to remove the Confederate-era monuments from public spaces in New Orleans have said that there are other monuments and landmarks that should be removed and/or altered like the statue of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson, a slaveowner, in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square and streets like Jefferson Davis Parkway and Robert E. Lee Blvd.

Monument supporters argue that residents can’t wipe away history by doing away with historical monuments and landmarks and that, whether residents like them or not, these monuments, statues and landmarks tell the city, state and nation’s history.

This article originally published in the May 30, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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