Robert E. Lee Monument (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Robert E. Lee Monument
The monument in 2015
|Location||Lee Circle (900–1000 blocks St. Charles Avenue), New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Built by||Roy, John|
|NRHP reference #||91000254|
|Added to NRHP||March 19, 1991|
The Robert E. Lee Monument formerly in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a historic statue dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee by noted American sculptor Alexander Doyle. It was removed (intact) by official order and moved to an unknown location on May 19, 2017. Any future display is uncertain. The monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. It was included by New Orleans magazine in June 2011 as one of the city's "11 important statues".
The monument was dedicated in 1884, at Tivoli Circle (since commonly called Lee Circle) on St. Charles Avenue. Dignitaries present at the dedication on February 22—George Washington's birthday—included former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, two daughters of General Lee, and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. Efforts to raise funds to build the statue began after Lee's death in 1870 by the Robert E. Lee Monument Association, which by 1876 had raised the $36,400 needed. The association's president was Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Fenner. New York sculptor Alexander Doyle was hired to sculpt the brass statue, which was installed in 1884. The granite base and pedestal designed and built by John Ray [Roy], architect; contract dated 1877. Cost $26,474. John Hagan, a builder, was contracted to "furnish and set" the column. Cost $9,350.
The statue itself rises 16'6" tall, with an 8'4" base, standing on a 60' column with an interior staircase, according to a schematic released by the City of New Orleans on the day of the removal of the statue and its base, May 19, 2017. The Lee statue faced "north where, as local lore has it, he can always look in the direction of his military adversaries."
In January 1953, the statue of General Lee was lifted from atop the column for repairs to the monument's foundation. The statue was returned to its perch in January the following year.
A racial confrontation occurred at the monument on January 19, 1972, the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Addison Roswell Thompson, a perennial segregationist candidate for governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans, and his friend and mentor, Rene LaCoste (not to be confused with the French tennis player René Lacoste), clashed with a group of Black Panthers. Then eighty-nine years of age and a former opera performer in New York City, LaCoste was described as "dapper in seersucker slacks and navy sports jacket" and with a "white mustache and goatee" resembling Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. LaCoste and Thompson dressed in Klan robes for the occasion and placed a Confederate flag at the monument. The Black Panthers began throwing bricks at the pair, but police arrived in time to prevent serious injury. At the time of the Thompson/LaCoste confrontation, David Duke, then an active Klansman who served from 1989 to 1992 in the Louisiana House of Representatives, had been among those jailed in New Orleans for "inciting to riot".
Removal of the monument
On June 24, 2015, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu acknowledged the impact of the June 2015 Charleston church shooting, but credited a 2014 conversation with New Orleans jazz ambassador Wynton Marsalis for his decision to call for the removal of the Lee statue and renaming of Lee Circle and other city memorials dedicated to Confederate slaveholders.
As part of a sixty-day period for public input, two city commissions called for the removal of four monuments associated with the Confederacy: the Lee statue, statues of Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard, and an obelisk commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place. Governor Bobby Jindal opposed the removals.
On December 15, 2015, Wynton Marsalis explained his reasons for advocating removal in The Times-Picayune: "When one surveys the accomplishments of our local heroes across time from Iberville and Bienville, to Andrew Jackson, from Mahalia Jackson, to Anne Rice and Fats Domino, from Wendell Pierce, to John Besh and Jonathan Batiste, what did Robert E. Lee do to merit his distinguished position? He fought for the enslavement of a people against our national army fighting for their freedom; killed more Americans than any opposing general in history; made no attempt to defend or protect this city; and even more absurdly, he never even set foot in Louisiana. In the heart of the most progressive and creative cultural city in America, why should we continue to commemorate this legacy?"
Contrary to assertions that Robert E. Lee never set foot in New Orleans, he visited or passed through the city in 1846, 1848, 1860 and 1861, while serving in the United States Army. While in New Orleans, Lee was quartered at the military post of Jackson Barracks.
On December 17, 2015, the New Orleans City Council voted to relocate four statues from public display, among them the statue of Robert E. Lee located in Lee Circle. Four organizations immediately filed a lawsuit in federal court the day of the decision and the city administration agreed that no monument removals would take place before a court hearing scheduled for January 14, 2016.
In January 2016, David Mahler, a contractor who had been hired by the City of New Orleans to remove the four statues including the statue of Robert E. Lee located in Lee Circle backed out of his contract with the city after he, his family, and employees began receiving death threats. According to authorities in Baton Rouge, early on the morning of January 19, 2016 the Fire Department found a 2014 Lamborghini Huracan ablaze in a parking lot behind David Mahler's company, H&O Investments, LLC. The car, belonging to Mahler and valued at $200,000, was completely destroyed.
On March 4, 2016, State Senator Beth Mizell, of Franklinton in Washington Parish, filed a bill in the Legislature seeking to block local governments in Louisiana from removing Confederate monuments and other commemorative statues without State permission. The Mizell bill was unexpectedly assigned by Senate President John Alario, a Republican from Westwego in Jefferson Parish, to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, rather than to the Senate Education Committee. This doomed the bill; five of the nine members of the Governmental Affairs Committee are African-American Democrats and it is chaired by Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans. The Education Committee is composed of six Republicans and two Democrats.
2016–17 legal developments
On March 25, 2016 a three-judge panel of the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously issued an injunction for that suit brought in federal district court by the Monumental Task Committee and other groups opposed to the removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument, and monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard prohibiting the City of New Orleans from proceeding forward with removal of the 3 monuments. The Court of Appeals set a hearing date of September 28, 2016 for oral argument for whether its injunction should be maintained pending a final judgment on the merits of the district court suit. The decision of the Court of Appeals superseded that ruling of United States District Court Judge Carl Barbier rendered January 26, 2016 denying the motion of the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction against the City of New Orleans until a final judgment on their suit in the district court.
On April 6, 2016 Senate Bill 276 by State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton to block local governments in Louisiana from removing Confederate monuments and other commemorative statues without State permission was rejected by the Governmental Affairs Committee on a 5–4 racial and party line vote. On August 14, 2016, pro-monuments House Bill 944 by Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, to create a state board with the power to grant or deny proposals to remove or relocate a statue, monument, memorial or plaque that has been on public property for more than 30 years died in the Municipal Affairs Committee after a 7–7 tie vote.
On March 6, 2017, following oral argument on September 28, 2017 for whether its injunction should be maintained pending a final judgment of the district court on the merits of the suit brought by the Monumental Task Committee and other groups opposed to the removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument, and monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the three-judge panel of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously held the City of New Orleans should be enjoined no further and could proceed forward with the removal of the three Confederate monuments. In support of its ruling, the Court of Appeals panel held, "we have exhaustively reviewed the record and can find no evidence in the record suggesting that any party other than the City has ownership" and the plaintiffs failed to show any irreparable harm would occur to the monuments if the City of New Orleans were to remove them, even assuming such evidence would constitute a harm to the groups bringing the suit.
On May 18, 2017, the City of New Orleans announced the statue of General Robert E. Lee would be removed the following day. On May 19, 2017 just after 6 p.m., following a day-long effort by work crews, the statue of Lee was finally detached and then removed and lowered by crane from its column pedestal.
While crews were working on removing the statue, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a speech at Gallier Hall discussing the historical context of the Lee and other monuments, and the reasons for and meaning of their removal.
The removal prompted Mississippi lawmaker Karl Oliver to post on Facebook that those supporting the take-down of the Confederate monuments "should be LYNCHED". He later apologized for this statement.
- Lee Circle
- List of memorials to Robert E. Lee
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Orleans Parish, Louisiana
- Jefferson Davis Monument
- General Beauregard Equestrian Statue
- Removal of Confederate monuments and memorials
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Lee Monument, Lee Circle.
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Landrieu recalled Marsalis saying. When the mayor asked why, Marsalis responded, "Let me help you see it through my eyes. Who is he? What does he represent? And in that most prominent space in the city of New Orleans, does that space reflect who we were, who we want to be or who we are?"
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- The Advocate
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