Dozens of people gathered in New Orleans on Thursday morning to witness the removal of the Jefferson Davis Memorial, the second of four Confederate-era monuments that are set to come down.
The statue, erected in 1911 in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was taken down at around 6 a.m. Thursday by workers wearing masks and helmets. The area was heavily guarded by police officers, presumably to prevent clashes between pro- and anti-monument groups.
New Orleans voted to remove four Confederate-era monuments in 2015 because the statues for many residents are symbols of racism and white supremacy. The city, in a press release on Thursday, said the statues were built decades after the Civil War to "celebrate the 'Cult of the Lost Cause,'" a movement it says promotes white supremacy.
"Three weeks ago, we began a challenging but long overdue process of removing four statues that honor the ‘Lost Cause of the Confederacy.’ Today we continue the mission,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in the statement. "These monuments have stood not as historic or educational markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in celebration of it. I believe we must remember all of our history, but we need not revere it."
The city began the process of taking down the statutes late last month, starting with the removal of the monument to the Battle at Liberty Place, which Landrieu said was put up to celebrate the murder of police officers by white supremacists.
Workers in that removal crew also wore masks and the area was guarded by officers and snipers.
Proponents and opponents of the removal plan have taken part in sometimes tense demonstrations at monument sites in the past.
Multiple protesters were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace on Sunday after a fight broke out at an event held to celebrate the removal of the Liberty Place monument. The demonstration attracted more than 700 people, including counter-protesters who carried Confederate flags.
The city has not released a timeline for its removal plans, citing "widely known intimidation, threats, and violence, serious safety concerns."
However, Landrieu previously said the monument of Davis and the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard could come down "anytime, sooner rather than later."
"To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in some of our most prominent public places is not only an inaccurate reflection of our past, it is an affront to our present, and a bad prescription for our future," Landrieu said in Thursday's statement. "We should not be afraid to confront and reconcile our past."
The staff at the Morris Jeff Community School, located near the Jefferson Davis monument, sent out a recorded message late Wednesday to parents, saying that the New Orleans Police Department had confirmed that the statue would be removed overnight.
Parents were also asked not to share the news on social media "for safety and security" reasons as it fears that could intensify crowds and "attract more protesters."