By Claire Byun
The Jefferson Davis Monument is still standing Monday morning after a group of pro-monument protestors stood guard over the night.
More than 50 people gathered in front of the Confederate president’s memorial Sunday night after rumors that Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration would begin taking down four monuments early Monday morning. The candlelight vigil was organized by the Monumental Task Committee (MTC), a pro-monuments group which previously filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing the Jefferson Davis statue—among others—from destruction.
“It’s sad we’re here tonight, because it’s imminent that these beautiful monuments will be taken down eventually,” said Pierre McGraw, MTC president.
Rumors had been swirling for days that the city would take apart at least two of the monuments—most likely Jeff Davis and White League monuments—over Sunday night. The city would not confirm dates or times for removal, citing safety issues.
The candlelight vigil attracted members of the MTC as well as a few bystanders holding hand-made signs and carrying American flags. The crowd started gathering around 11 p.m. but thinned a bit after 2 a.m. when crews began taking down the White League monument at Liberty Place.
Some extra-vigilant supporters stuck near the Jefferson Davis memorial all night.
“This is our state, this our home, this is our blood,” said Pat Gallagher, who stood guard in front of the memorial for hours.
Gallagher said she grew up with Confederate history—and it’s significance in the South’s Reconstruction period—all her life. She sees the monuments as history and heritage, and said Jefferson Davis was seen as a hero, patriot, and son of the South.
“If we stop hearing our history, then we will lose everything,” she said.
The vigil turned tense after a man holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign silently stood in front of the monument. Some protestors tried to block the man and others argued, while one man physically ripped the sign from his hands and tore it.
That protestor—the man originally holding the sign—stayed put, silently standing in front of the monument and briefly answering some questions from the monuments’ supporters.
Crews started tearing down the Liberty Place monument around 2 a.m. Monday, to the condemnation of those gathered at Jefferson Davis. The crowd watched a live stream of the removal from someone’s phone for several minutes, denouncing the decision to remove monuments in the dead of night. MTC members said the late-night removal showed a lack of transparency, and the secrecy of the days and times only added to that burden.
The question of who is paying for the removal and who is contracted to remove it was also unclear Sunday evening. In a press release sent around 3 a.m., Landrieu said private funding was made available to remove all four monuments.
The release was sent almost two hours after crews started taking down the Liberty Place monument.
“These are landmarks, and they’re also a center point for everything here in New Orleans,” said concerned citizen Charles Lincoln. “These men are basically role models; they are heroes who believed they were doing the right thing.”
Lincoln announced he crafted a new petition calling for an environmental impact statement of the monuments, which would reinvigorate an older lawsuit filed by the MTC. The more pushback the Legislature receives, the more likely the petition can be successful, Lincoln said.
Lincoln repeated that, at least for the Monumental Task Committee, the monuments represent history important to the South. If the city wants to rid itself of its slavery heritage, officials “should just bulldoze the French Quarter.”
Though Jefferson Davis is still standing Monday morning, it will be removed soon, Landrieu said. So the MTC is planning another vigil in front of the monument shortly.
“The longer we keep this up, the better chance we have,” McGraw said. “We’re prepared to do this and meet again.”