New Orleans may be widely regarded as one of the most progressive cities in Louisiana, but it still houses at least four statues memorializing the Confederacy, and Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal wants to make sure they stay there.
The monuments commemorate Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard. Another 35-foot obelisk memorializes the Battle of Liberty Place, a rebellion in the late 1800s during which Confederate veterans revolted against Reconstruction authorities. The New York Times once referred to the obelisk as, "a rallying point for the Ku Klux Klan and for one of its Grand Wizards, David Duke."
The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, has advocated for the relocation of these statues. Landrieu, a Democrat, created a plan last month to allow the Historic District Landmarks Commission - responsible for "protecting the heritage of the City" - and the Human Relations Commission of New Orleans to begin discussions on the landmarks' possible removal. Last Thursday, both groups voted to remove the statues.
“This is about more than the men represented in these statues. This discussion is about whether these monuments, built to reinforce the false valor of a war fought over slavery, ever really belonged in a city as great as New Orleans whose lifeblood flows from our diversity and inclusiveness," Landrieu said, according to a government press release. "Supremacy may be a part of our past, but it should not be part of our future."
Immediately after the Commissions' vote, Doug Cain, Jindal’s spokesman, said that Jindal had instructed his staff to look into the “Heritage Act” to find legal ground upon which Jindal could block the removal of the statues. One publication reported that no such law actually exists in Louisiana, though it did in South Carolina.
Mike Reed, Jindal's Communications Director, responded to NBC News' request for comment with an email statement, writing, "Governor Jindal opposes the tearing down of these historical statues and he has instructed his staff to determine the legal authority he has as Governor to stop it."
The New Orleans City Council could decide as early as September whether or not the Mayor’s office has the authority to remove the statues. The formal recommendations of the two commissions are likely to influence the City Council’s decision making process, Brad Howard, the press secretary of Mayor Landrieu, told NBC News.
The current controversy over the New Orleans statues comes in the wake of intense nationwide debate over the modern use of the Confederate flag, sparked in June by the South Carolina shooting of nine black members of Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, signed a law in early July removing the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol.
According to Howard, Mayor Landrieu had begun to look into removing the statues in January, months before the Charleston shooting. Landrieu wants to ensure that New Orleans projects a positive image to the world for the city's tri-centennial celebration in 2018, Howard said.
The Louisiana state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked Jindal to remove the Confederate flag from Louisiana vanity license plates in June, writing, “Despite pretextual claims of pride in white southern heritage, this license plate, with its prominent stars and bars emblem, serves as a symbol of hate -- only used by the most radical among us to divide our state.” Jindal emailed NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune about the NAACP’s letter, saying “Certainly it's possible that the Legislature will look at this issue next time they are in session. But the bottom line is that states need to decide these issues, not the federal government. I'm tired of the New York Times and others in D.C. miles and miles away thinking they can make these decisions [about Confederate symbols] for the states, or assuming that everyone in the south is racist.”