Battle of Liberty Place Monument
Monument at its most recent location, 2006
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Dismantled date||April 24, 2017|
The Battle of Liberty Place Monument is a stone obelisk on an inscribed plinth, formerly on display in New Orleans, in the U.S. state of Louisiana, commemorating the "Battle of Liberty Place", an 1874 attempt by Democratic White League paramilitary organizations to take control of the government of Louisiana from its Reconstruction Era Republican leadership after a disputed gubernatorial election.
Erected in 1891 by a white-dominated city government, the obelisk became the site of protests and rallies by both white supremacists and those who objected to it as a symbol of racism. It was removed in 2017 amid great controversy and threats of violence and was placed in storage.
The 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election was a particularly contentious contest between Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Pitt Kellogg. In a close contest, Kellogg was declared the winner by outgoing Republican Henry C. Warmoth. Democratic forces in the state legislature succeeded in impeaching Warmoth after this action, and both Kellogg and McEnery claimed victory. Kellogg's win was later certified by the federal government. McEnery and his supporters continued to dispute the result, and in 1874 established a competing legislature. In September 1874, a paramilitary force called the White League entered the city (then the state capital) to forcibly unseat Kellogg. On September 19, they defeated city and state police and militia in the Battle of Liberty Place and occupied government buildings; they withdrew after President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to the city.
History of the monument
In 1891, as the Democratic-controlled legislature passed laws that disenfranchised most black Americans, the government of the City of New Orleans erected the Liberty Monument to "commemorate the uprising" of 1874, in the city. The monument was prominently placed in the neutral ground (median) near the foot of Canal Street. In 1932, inscriptions were added to the monument which attested to the battle's role in establishing white supremacy.
By the late 20th century, after civil rights achievements, many residents, especially in the black and Italian American communities, objected to the monument as a symbol of racism. (During the 1891 Hennessy Affair, a New Orleans mob had lynched eleven Italian men; the lynching had helped revive the stalled fundraising campaign for the Liberty Place Monument.)
In 1965 the monument was dismantled and temporarily removed during major demolition and construction projects in the area. Already controversial, it was put back despite objections in 1970. It was subject to protests and vandalism with some regularity.
In 1974, the city government added a plaque at the foot of the monument; it acknowledged the history while officially distancing the city from the racist philosophy of previous generations.
In 1981, New Orleans mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial called for the monument to be removed, saying "because of what it symbolizes, has long been a source of divisiveness in our community" and "in the interest of public harmony, it is time to lay this monument to rest." The City Council blocked Morial's attempt to remove the monument, but agreed to removing the inscription touting "white supremacy" in what was described as a "compromise".
In 1989, the monument was removed during major street work on Canal Street and many residents opposed its return. The city tried to negotiate removing the inscriptions. Some people argued for the monument's restoration at the original location. The content of the inscriptions was seldom discussed; rather, the issues were dealt with on technical grounds. Historic preservation officials argued for its replacement; others argued this was history that did not deserve commemoration.
On July 16, 1993, the New Orleans City Council voted 6 to 1 to declare the monument a nuisance. It was taken to a warehouse, with the intention to move it to an indoor museum. The council eventually permitted its installation at a less prominent location, a short distance off Canal Street (at the river end of Iberville Street) between the One Canal Place parking garage and a floodwall.
White supremacist David Duke cited the monument as a symbol of "white pride" and in 2004, tried to stage a rally by it. The monument was frequently vandalized as the target of anti-racist and anti-Nazi graffiti. It was one of three monuments vandalized in March 2012 by a group noting the divisive nature of a monument favoring a racist past. The graffiti referenced the New Orleans Police Department killings of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen as well as the killing of Trayvon Martin. A local businessman led his staff in cleaning up the monuments; he said that after Hurricane Katrina, residents needed to build the city together.
In July 2015, the Charleston church shooting caused many Southern states and communities to rethink the public display of Confederate symbols and monuments. The New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu called for the Liberty Place monument and statues honoring Robert E. Lee and other Confederate notables to be removed from prominent public spaces, explaining that "that's what museums are for". The idea drew both support and resistance and the city council voted unanimously to hold public hearings to discuss the proposal.
In October 2016, on Mischief Night, a group of angry paraders converged on the monument. The monument was covered in anti-racist graffiti and parts of the inscription were smashed with sledgehammers. When the police tried to intervene they were attacked with paint and a bonfire was lit. In December 2016, the council voted to remove the monument, and its move was upheld by a federal appeals court in March 2017.
Under the cover of darkness because of threats of violence, the monument was removed in the early hours of April 24, 2017, a day that was observed in Mississippi and Alabama as Confederate Memorial Day. With heavy police presence, workers wore bulletproof jackets and were protected by police snipers, in the face of threats of violence. Mayor Mitch Landrieu stated that the statue would be moved into storage before being relocated into "a museum or other facility".
The following inscription was added in 1932:
McEnery and Penn having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored).
United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.
In 1974, the city government added an adjacent marker, which stated:
Although the "battle of Liberty Place" and this monument are important parts of the New Orleans history, the sentiments in favor of white supremacy expressed thereon are contrary to the philosophy and beliefs of present-day New Orleans.
When the monument was moved in 1993, some of the original inscriptions were removed, and replaced with new inscriptions that state in part:
- Dawson, Joseph (1990). The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. LSU Press. pp. 167, 173, 183
- Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, Introduction
- Reed, Adolph, Jr. (June 1993). "The battle of Liberty Monument - New Orleans, Louisiana white supremacist statue". The Progressive. Archived from the original on 2017-08-31. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
- Powell, Lawrence N. (2013). "Reinventing Tradition: Liberty Place, Historical Memory, and Silk-stocking Vigilantism in New Orleans Politics". In Frey, Sylvia R.; Wood, Betty (eds.). From Slavery to Emancipation in the Atlantic World. Routledge. pp. 127–128. ISBN 9781317952053.
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- ""Photos of monument to Battle of Liberty Place". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
- "New Orleans to Remove Obelisk Revered by White Supremacists", New York Times, 16 July 1993
- Katy Reckdahl, "3 defaced New Orleans monuments are cleaned by volunteers", The Times-Picayune, March 2012
- Reckdahl, Katy (2012-03-29). "3 defaced New Orleans monuments are cleaned by volunteers". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2017-05-11.
- "Landmark removal proposal opens Confederate can of worms at Council meeting". NOLA.com. 2015-07-09. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
- "Mitch Landrieu on Confederate landmarks: 'That's what museums are for'". NOLA.com. 2015-06-24. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
- "NOLA.com - YouTube". Videos.nola.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
- Mischief Night Parade Breaks History
- Chappell, Bill (7 March 2017). "New Orleans Can Remove Confederate Statues, Federal Appeals Court Says". npr.org. National Public Radio. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
- Litten, Kevin (April 24, 2017). "Liberty Place monument removed on Confederate Memorial Day". NOLA.com. Times-Picayune. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
- "City of New Orleans Begins Removal of Divisive Confederate Statues Commemorating "Cult of the Lost Cause"". City of New Orleans. 2017-04-24. Retrieved 2017-05-11.
- Litten, Kevin (May 12, 2018). "2 Confederate monuments should stay in New Orleans, committee recommends to Mayor Cantrell". Times-Picayune.
- Jones, Terry L. The Louisiana Journey, Layton, Utah: Gibbs, Smith Publisher, 2007, p. 238.
- "Marker #34742, Monument to Battle of Liberty Place", Historical Markers Database
- W., Loewen, James (2001-01-01). Lies across America : what our historic sites and monuments get wrong. Touchstone. ISBN 0684870673. OCLC 66187012.
- Media related to Battle of Liberty Place monument at Wikimedia Commons