NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Protesters Saturday tore down a bust of a slave owner who left part of his fortune to New Orleans’ schools and then took the remains to the Mississippi River and rolled it down the banks into the water.
The destruction is part of a nationwide effort to remove monuments to the Confederacy or with links to slavery as the country grapples with widespread protests against police brutality toward African Americans.
Police said in a statement Saturday that demonstrators at Duncan Plaza, which is directly across the street from City Hall, dragged the bust into the streets, loaded it onto trucks and took it to the Mississippi River where they threw it in.
Two people who were driving the trucks transporting the bust were apprehended by police and taken to police headquarters, authorities said. Their names were not given in the statement.
The police did not identify the bust but it was of John McDonogh.
Video on social media showed dozens of people surrounding the bust which sat on a pedestal while some people pulled on a rope tied to the bust and another hit it with what appears to be a skateboard. As the bust tilts and then crashes to the ground the crowd cheers. Another video posted on social media shows a crowd watching as the bust is rolled down the rocky banks of the Mississippi River and into the water.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a tweet that the city “rejects vandalism and destruction of City property. It is unlawful.”
New Orleans took down four Confederate-era monuments in 2017 after a months-long process of contentious public meetings and demonstrations. But other controversial symbols remain. The city has started a process to discuss renaming streets named after Confederate figures.
When he died, McDonogh left a large portion of his money to New Orleans and Baltimore for schools, and many schools in New Orleans are named after him. The McDonogh Day celebration in which schoolchildren across the city laid flowers at a different monument to McDonogh became the subject of boycotts in the 1950s. The ceremony was racially segregated, and African-American children would have to wait for hours for white children to lay their flowers first.
Gary Ballier saw a Facebook post Saturday that the bust had been pulled down and wanted to see for himself so he drove to the square. McDonogh’s name is still etched on the pedestal but underneath it, demonstrators wrote “racist.”
Ballier remembers school ceremonies when he was growing up honoring McDonogh and while he was in the military he served at bases named after Confederate generals. He noted the number of streets across the city named for Confederate figures, such as Robert E. Lee Boulevard. It’s long past time for those to go, he said.