Protesters near the Jefferson Davis statue on Thursday. Plans to remove several Confederate monuments have stirred tensions in the city.
New Orleans police officers guarding a statue of Jefferson Davis, which the city plans to remove soon.
For Frank B. Stewart Jr., a white New Orleans native, the city government’s plan to remove the statues — an idea championed by New Orleans’s white mayor, Mitch Landrieu — feels like an Orwellian attempt to erase history. This week, Mr. Stewart, 81, a businessman and civic leader, argued as much in a letter he published as a two-page advertisement in The Advocate, a local newspaper.
“I ask you, Mitch, should the Pyramids in Egypt be destroyed since they were built entirely from slave labor?” he wrote.
Mr. Stewart added: “What about the Roman Coliseum? It was built by slaves, who lived horrible lives under Roman oppression, but it still stands today and we learn so much from seeing it.”
Such are the irreconcilable parameters of an ugly battle over race and history in New Orleans that only seems to be growing uglier, one that demonstrates the Confederacy’s enduring power to divide Americans more than 150 years after the cause was lost.
“I can’t believe this is happening in my city,” said Charles Washmon, a 51-year-old contractor who was standing near a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, on Thursday. Mr. Washmon, who is white, was part of a group of protesters waving Confederate flags who had been attracting both honks of support and invectives from passing cars all afternoon. Like Mr. Stewart, he feared that removing the statues would deprive a history-laden city of a crucial layer of its past. “It’s a travesty,” Mr. Washmon said.
In December 2015, Mr. Landrieu, a Democrat who will leave office next year because of term limits, signed an ordinance calling for the removal of four monuments related to the Confederacy and its aftermath. It was six months after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist with a fondness for Confederate symbols, massacred nine black people in a church in Charleston, S.C. One of the monuments, an obelisk honoring a violent uprising in 1874 by white New Orleanians who rejected Reconstruction, was taken down on April 24 by workers wearing flak jackets and scarves to conceal their identities.