The city of New Orleans on Friday began taking down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the last of four Confederate-related statues the southern city is removing.
The Lee statue is being removed during the day, unlike the other removals which took place before dawn. Mayor Mitch Landrieu plans to address the city about the removals in a speech later Friday.
At daybreak, work crews began taking out shrubs surrounding the statue with heavy equipment, Fox 8 New Orleans reported.
The station reported that workers with power tools had surrounded the base of the 60-foot tall monument.
Cops cordoned off the area Thursday as protestors gathered.
In a news release obtained by The Associated Press, the city said the statues were “erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy.”
The mayor’s office said no public money has been used in the removal. The city said it raised $600,000 from private donors.
Landrieu had proposed the removal of the monuments after the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos. That recharged the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
The Robert E. Lee statue was a familiar landmark for tourists and commuters who travel busy St. Charles Avenue by car or on one of the city’s historic streetcars.
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.
The city removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis last week; a statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard on Wednesday; and a monument memorializing a deadly 1874 white-supremacist uprising in April.
Those three statues were taken down without advance public notice, a precautionary measure after officials said threats had been made against contractors and workers involved in the effort.
Of the four monuments, Lee’s was easily the most prominent, with the bronze statue alone being close to 20 feet tall. It’s an image of Lee standing tall in uniform, with his arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall column.
It towered over a traffic circle — Lee Circle — in an area between the office buildings of the city’s business district and stately 19th century mansions in the nearby Garden District.
Landrieu drew blistering criticism from monument supporters and even some political allies. But he insisted throughout that the statues honoring the Confederate figures must go.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.