The southern U.S. city of New Orleans, Louisiana has begun removing four prominent monuments that paid tribute to the city’s racially segregated past.
Workers began dismantling the first memorial, which commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial government in New Orleans in the years after the U.S. Civil War, after midnight.
Officials decided to remove the statue in the dead of night in an attempt to avoid disruption from opponents of the removals.
New Orleans’s majority-black city council voted in 2015 to take the statues down, but legal battles over their fate have prevented their removal until now.
The decision also triggered death threats, prompting workers to wear bullet-proof vests and helmets.
The other three memorials, which salute the president of the breakaway Confederate States of America and two famous Confederate army generals, will be removed in the coming days.
New Orleans is the latest entity to remove symbols that memorialize the Confederacy, a coalition of 11 southern states that seceded from the original United States between 1861 to 1865 over the issue of enslaved African-Amercans, and waged an unsuccessful war against their northern neighbors.
The symbols are viewed by many as a representation of racism and white supremacy.
The debate over Confederate symbols has become heated since nine parishioners were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June 2015 by Dylann Roof, a young self-proclaimed white supremacist.