New Orleans is latest place in the South knocking down monuments to the Confederacy

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW ORLEANS) -- New Orleans has become the latest place in the South to take down monuments or symbols to the Confederacy.

Workers early Monday dismantled a 35-foot granite obelisk, the Liberty Place monument, which honored whites who tried to defeat a racially integrated government installed in New Orleans after the Civil War. The city will also remove three statues to Confederate military officers in coming days.

"We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city," Mayor Mitch Landrieu vowed.

New Orleans' toppling of Confederate monuments is part of a trend that gained speed and momentum after a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, when avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans in a bible-study session.

In the aftermath of the massacre, calls came from both Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina to take down a Confederate battle flag that flew atop the statehouse in Charleston.

South Carolina's public grappling with symbols of its history sparked calls from activists and politicians around the country to take down Confederate flags and monuments in other places.

Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy and research organization focused on fighting bigotry and discrimination, published a survey in the wake of the Charleston shooting that found more than 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces in the U.S., nearly all of them in the South.

The group asserted in its study that the symbols of the Confederacy can't be separated from the ideology underlying the Southern states' defense of slavery after the Civil War.

"There is no doubt among reputable historians that the Confederacy was established upon the premise of white supremacy and that the South fought the Civil War to preserve its slave labor," the study states.

South Carolina took the Confederate battle flag down from its perch on the statehouse on July 10, 2015, little more than three weeks after the church killings.

Since then, Confederate flags have also been taken down at other locations including the Alabama statehouse, Oklahoma Baptist University and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Souvenir Confederate flags were also taken off the shelves at major retailers like Sears and Walmart and at small gift shops such as at the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater in Kentucky and at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.

Defenders of public displays of Confederate monuments and symbols say they are important markers of history.

Robert Bonner, a 63-year-old who participates in Civil War re-enactments, protested the removal of the Liberty Place monument in New Orleans, telling The Associated Press that the city's decision to take it down was "terrible."

"It's a terrible thing," Bonner said. "When you start removing the history of the city ... you start losing where you came from and where you've been."

Aware of opposition to removing the Liberty Place monument, the workers who took it down did so while it was still dark and wore both masks and bulletproof vests.

Some historians, echoing the view of the Southern Poverty Law Center, say many of the monuments to the Confederacy were put up less to commemorate history than to make a statement after the Civil War against any granting of full rights and political power to former slaves.

"Many of these statues were mounted in the 1890s and during the time of Jim Crow," when laws enforcing racial separation took hold, said Matt Karp, associate professor of history at Princeton University and author of a book on the legacy of slavery.

"These were political [statements] and not meant to be viewed as neutral symbols" of history, Karp said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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