Undercover Monument Removal in New Orleans Sparks Transparency Debate


Published in Next City, May 5 2017

Jefferson Davis is coming down, but I can’t tell you exactly when, and I don’t know who will remove him. His dethroning has been in the works since Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the New Orleans City Council to consider removing four Confederate and white supremacist monuments in 2015. The request came weeks after the racially motivated killings of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, but some had called for their dismantling for decades.

Last week, after a year and a half of court challenges, the first monument was removed in dead of night. Davis is next — Landrieu has said he’ll come down from his spot at Jeff Davis Parkway and Canal Street in the next 30 to 45 days — but the city government won’t provide more detail than that, and won’t be throwing a celebration.

Indeed, a decision some say Landrieu made to bulk up his progressive credentials appears to be backfiring on both sides.

In a bid to protect the identities of contractors and workers, the city is using private funds funneled through a nonprofit entity not subject to the same public bidding process or transparency laws as a public agency. According to the New Orleans Advocate, over $600,000 has been donated to the Foundation for Louisiana for the removal work, and the nonprofit has an agreement with the city to use those donations to work with contractors and pay all removal costs.

Days after that agreement was signed, masked workers took down the first monument, an obelisk honoring a Reconstruction-era uprising by white citizens against the city’s integrated police force. Its plaque explicitly declared white supremacy the law of the land until 1993. The monument was removed at 3 a.m., under protection of snipers, and carted away in trucks with the logos blacked out.