Published: Sat, May 20, 2017
National | By Rosalie Gross

There's a staircase under the Robert E. Lee statue?

It will be the last of four Confederate-era monuments removed by the city after a long and divisive battle over whether old South emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.

"Na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!" some in the crowd cheered as the statue was lowered onto a flatbed trailer.

General Lee's statue is the first to be removed during daylight. "These monuments celebrate a fictional account of the Confederacy".

"This cult had one goal and one goal only: through monuments and other means to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity", he said. The city has stated the monuments will remain in storage until officials find a museum or facility where they can be displayed in "proper" context.

The city organized extra security around the Lee statue Friday and cordoned off a one-block radius around Lee Circle to cars in anticipation of protests.

The statue of Lee, who commanded Confederate armies against the Union in the Civil War, was the most prominent of the four statues, his bronze figure standing almost 20 feet (6 meters) tall in uniform, arms crossed defiantly, gazing northward.

Erected in 1884, Lee's is the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed in accordance with a 2015 City Council vote.

Before police cleared the area on Thursday, almost 200 protesters gathered to voice support and opposition to the monument.

The idea to remove the statue was first proposed by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu back in 2015.

A small crowd - including some supporting the removal and those opposing it - gathered outside the barricaded area throughout the morning.

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Tempers cooled when police recovered the flag and returned it.

On the day of the unveiling, a crowd of almost 15,000 people came to watch, the Daily Picayune newspaper reported the next day.

The city's famed Uptown streetcar line wraps around the circle, and almost all Carnival parades traverse it near the end of their route.

"They're actually a denial of our history and they were done in a time when people who still controlled the Confederacy were in charge of this city and it only represents a four-year period in our 1000-year march to where we are today".

The removal of the Lee statue brings to a close a process that began more than two years ago and included taking down three other Confederate monuments amid fruitless legal challenges to keep them in place.

Throughout the years, the Lee monument has served as a focal point for Civil War reunions and a host of civic celebrations. But Frank Varela Jr., a New Orleans native carrying an American flag, said he thought Lee should stay up as "a part of the South". It's a bronze sculpture of Lee looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall column. It towered over the street also named after him. Central Standard Time Wednesday, May 17, 2017, from the entrance to City Park in New Orleans.

"These men did not fight for the United States of America, they fought against it", said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

New Orleans' removal of the monuments has prompted Louisiana lawmakers to work to enact a law that would make it harder for cities to take down Confederate monuments from public property.

Landrieu plans to address city residents later in the afternoon.

The area that formerly housed the Jefferson Davis statue will soon feature an American flag, the city announced Thursday night. The bill would allow local governments to take down a memorial only if voters approve the action at "an election held for that objective". The statue of Lee - who surrendered the Confederate Army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, effectively ending the Civil War - was the first to be taken down in the light of day.

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