NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans' leaders on Thursday made a sweeping move to break with the city's Confederate past when the City Council voted to remove prominent Confederate monuments along some of its busiest streets.
The council's 6-1 vote allows the city to remove four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that has stood at the center of a traffic circle for 131 years.
The council also voted to remove a bronze figure of the Confederate president on Jefferson Davis Parkway, a more local hero, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, and an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League.
It was an emotional meeting - often interrupted by heckling - infused with references to slavery, lynchings, and racism, as well as the pleas of those who opposed removing the monuments to not "rewrite history."
City Council President Jason Williams called the vote a symbolic severing of a "umbilical cord" tying the city to the legacy of the Confederacy and the era of Jim Crow laws. "If anybody wins here, it will be the South, because it is finally rising," said Williams, who is African American.
Stacy Head, an at-large council member and one of two white members, was the lone vote against the removal. She lamented what she called a rush to take the monuments down without adequate consideration of their historic value and meaning to many in New Orleans.
Fixing historic injustice is "a lot harder work than removing monuments," she said, even as many in the packed council chambers jeered her.
The decision came after months of impassioned debate. Now, the city faces possible lawsuits seeking to keep the monuments where they are.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu first proposed taking down these monuments after a white gunman killed nine black parishioners inside Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., in June. The suspect had posted pictures of himself with a Confederate flag. Anti-Confederate sentiment has grown since then around the country.
Before Thursday's vote, Landrieu told the council and residents who gathered on both sides of the issue that for New Orleans to move forward, "we must reckon with our past." He signed the ordinance into law shortly after the vote. His administration said it would cost $170,000 to take the monuments down and put them in a warehouse until a new location is found for them - perhaps in a park or museum.