Jefferson Davis served as the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, although his legacy as rebel leader does not exactly shine in the historical record.Â The Civil War Trust notes that âDavisâ popularity and effectiveness were not enhanced by the growing number of Confederate defeats,â and that Davis was captured in the waning days of the war by Union soldiers after he fled the Confederate capital in Richmond.
âHisÂ cause went down in disastrous defeat and left theÂ South impoverished for generations,â Smithsonian Magazine noted, adding:Â âMany Americans in Davisâs own time and inÂ later generations considered him an incompetentÂ leader, if not a traitor.â
Still, Davis is celebrated in pockets of the South, with highways, high schools and other things named in his honor.
For more than 100 years, there was also a prominent statue of Davis in New Orleans.
A handful of protestersÂ lined up beneathÂ it before dawn Thursday, chanting âPresident DavisâÂ as city workers removed it.
Monument supporters chanting “President Davis” as police presence increases at statue pic.twitter.com/faSpCUJ3lN
â Jeff Adelson (@jadelson) May 11, 2017
After days of tension and protests, crews strapped the 116-year-old statue beneath its arms and wrapped its waist in plastic, according to NBC affiliate WDSU, and just after 5 a.m. hoisted it from its longtime perch â along Jefferson Davis Parkway, no less.
âA cheer went up from some of the dozens of protesters on the scene who have been pushing for the monumentâs removal,âÂ the Associated Press reported. âIt was then lowered behind trucks encircled around the monumentâs base and out of view of media gathered on the scene.â
As the DavisÂ statue came down, a group of proponents for removal who had been largely absent from the area around the Davis memorial since a series of verbalÂ clashes and minor skirmishesÂ with monument defenders, chanted âNa-na, na, Naa-na, goodbye,â according to people at the scene.
The group stoodÂ behind police metal barricades, near the corner of Canal St. and Jefferson Davis Parkway,Â on an expansive grassy median known in New Orleans as âthe neutral ground,â a reference to the way that the space once served as a conflict-free zone where the Spanish and French settlers who once battled for political, economic and social for control of this city engaged inÂ trade.
Across the intersection, monument defenders watched in a state of sad disbelief. Some jeered and booed the removal crew as it worked. Others, waved confederate flags, a blue Trump banner and groaned as Davis was wrapped in protective sheeting and encased in a wooden frame thenÂ wrestled from his perch on the neutral ground with the aid of a massive crane.
âThese monuments are symbols, symbols of hate and white supremacy that we simply, as a city cannot continue to honor this way,â said Mayor Mitch Landrieu in an interview with The Washington Post a Wednesday before the statue came down. âSo while this process has not been easy, we intend fully to move ahead.â
The Jefferson Davis statue was the second monument to rebelÂ heritage to come down in New Orleans in the past month; in late April,Â workers dismantled theÂ Battle of Liberty Place monument, which honored members of the Crescent City White LeagueÂ who died trying to overthrow the local governmentÂ after the Civil War.
âThree weeks ago, we began the process of removing statues erected to honor the âLost Cause of the Confederacy,â â said Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D).Â âThis morning, we continue our march to reconciliation by removing the Jefferson Davis Confederate statue from its pedestal of reverence.â
As happened with the previous monumentâsÂ dismantling, the cityâs actions provokedÂ immediate condemnationÂ from defenders of Confederate history.
âLandrieu cannot be inclusive, tolerant, or diverse when he is erasing a very specific and undeniable part of New Orleansâ history,â Pierre McGraw, president of the Monumental Task Committee,Â said in a statement.
The committee, which takes credit forÂ restoring the Davis memorial three decades ago, is part of a sprawling statue defense movement in New Orleans that spans from white supremacists such as David Duke to residents who condemn slavery while honoring ConfederateÂ soldiers who fought to protect it.
Since the first Confederate monument fell last month, all of these factions have been united in anger against Landrieu, the majority-black cityâs first white mayor since the 1970s.
âAnother historic monument was removed under the cover of darkness using amateur, masked workers in armor, unmarked vehicles and equipment, and with a heavy law enforcement presence,â reads the Monumental Task Committeeâs statement.
Four memorials â including the Davis statue and the Liberty Place monument â were orderedÂ removed in 2015 after city meetings thatÂ the Times-Picayune described as rowdyÂ and sometimes racially divided.
Two otherÂ memorials to rebel leaders â Gens.Â Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard â also have been condemned, although the city has not saidÂ when they willÂ be removed. In fact, city officials have declined to provide precise dates, because of threats made against contractors involved in removing the statues.
The Liberty Place monument was taken down by masked workers operating under the cover of darkness â andÂ the protection of police snipers.
The removal process has been stalled in courts, although a Louisiana judge on Wednesday rejected a last-ditch effort to block the removal of the Beauregard monument, the AP reported.
âThis has gone on an inordinate amount of time,â Judge Kern Reese said as he outlined reasons for his refusal to grant an injunction protecting the statue of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. It was a reference to state and federal court battles that delayed removal of the Beauregard monument and three others for more than a year.
The huge bronze image of Beauregard on horseback sits in the center of a traffic circle at the entrance to New Orleans City Park. Those who donât want it removed argued that it belongs to a park board and, therefore, the city has no authority to remove it.
Reeseâs rejection of an injunction means the city can remove the statue pending further proceedings in his court. Richard Marksbury, a New Orleans resident and monument supporter, said he may go to an appeal court to block removal.
Tensions have been high as the city continued preparations to topple more monuments.
ScenesÂ around the cityâs last fewÂ Confederate statuesÂ had takenÂ on a certain battlefield air since Landrieu ordered one dismantled, without advance public notice, and promised that the others would soon fall, too.
SympathizersÂ of that âlost causeâÂ haveÂ risen up in response.
âA man points at a machine gun held by a statue supporterâ was how the New Orleans Times-Picayune captioned a recent photo from a protective vigil around the monumentÂ to Davis.
âThe Battle of New Orleans,â they call it â the statuesâ defenders and detractors alike.
But on Sunday,Â asÂ plans for rival demonstrations provoked pleas ofÂ âreinforcementsâÂ from across the country, the scene remained largely nonviolent.
Some of those adversaries marched in a second-line parade to the traffic circle where Leeâs statue stands â centurion-like, stationed above the tree line atop a white stone pedestal â to protest the monumentâs place in the circle and to bury Leeâs place in history, which some revere and others revile. They were met by Confederate-flag wavers keeping vigil there, some wearing riot gear or motorcycle helmets.
Three people were arrested, all men defending the monuments, and charged with disturbing the peace after getting into a skirmish.
At Lee Circle, there was some yelling between the pro-monument and anti-monument crowds and some icy stares. Much of the fury and the verbal challenges came from the monument defenders, who appeared to be outnumbered by the second-line participants by at least two to one.
Four days later, as the Davis statue was coming down, an op-ed by LandrieuÂ was published on The Washington Postâs website.
âGetting here wasnât easy,â he wrote. âIt took a two-year review process, a City Council vote and victories over multiple legal challenges. The original firmÂ weâd hired to remove the monuments backed out after receiving death threats and having one of his cars set ablaze. Nearly every heavy-crane company in southern Louisiana has received threats from opponents. Some have likened these monuments to other monuments around the world from bygone eras, and have argued that civic resources would be better spent trying to educate the public about the history they embody. Respectfully, thatâs not the point. As mayor, I must consider their impact on our entire city. Itâs my job to chart the course ahead, not simply to venerate the past.â
He added:Â âThe record is clear: New Orleansâs Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy. These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it. They are an inaccurate recitation of our past, an affront to our present and a poor prescription for our future.
âThe right course, then, is to excise these symbols of injustice.â
Hours after the statue was removed by crane, the Times-Picayune reported that crews were still at the site,Â âattempting to move the pedestal on the statue sat. â¦ It appears the pedestal is turning out to be a difficult task.â
The statue itself, the newspaper reported, was âpackaged and waiting to be taken away to an undisclosed locationâ â another remembrance of Confederate history to be hidden from public view.
Southern cities and states have been wrestling with how to remember their Civil War legaciesÂ after a self-described white supremacistÂ massacred black churchgoers in South Carolina two years ago.
The deadly church shooting led to a backlash against Confederate imagery across the South â most notably whenÂ the rebel flagÂ fell after 54 years outsideÂ the South Carolina statehouse.
Charlottesville was sued in March by a group trying to stop a similar purge of Confederate imagery there.
âIn the immortal words of President Jefferson Davis, please just leave us alone,âÂ a chaplain for a Confederate heritage group in Alabama wrote forÂ AL.com last month, defending a state holiday to honorÂ fallen rebel soldiers. âLet us honor the valor and bravery of our Southern heroes without intimidation and insult,â Barry Cook wrote.
In his op-ed for The Post, Landrieu wrote that âwe must always remember our history and learn from it. ButÂ that doesnât mean we must valorize the ugliest chapters.â
He added:Â âHistory, unfortunately, has seen great nations become lost, isolated and ultimately extinct by refusing to confront the sins of the past and evolve to meet the demands of a changing world. If we donât want to be forever held back by our crushing history of institutional racism, itâs time to relegate these monuments to their proper place.â
This post has been updated.