The Hollywood Forever Cemetery removed a monument commemorating Confederate veterans early Wednesday after hundreds of activists requested it be taken down and some threatened vandalism.
The monument's removal came days after violence erupted at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the city's ordered removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The events triggered a national debate about similar monuments across the country.
After fielding dozens of calls and emails seeking the monument's removal, the owner of the cemetery, as well as the owner of the monument — the Long Beach Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy — agreed to move it to an undisclosed location, said Theodore Hovey, cemetery spokesman and family services counselor.
"It was thought that it would become impossible for us to maintain an atmosphere of tranquility, harmony and inclusion for all of our families and all of our visitors with the monument present here," he said.
The process of removing the monument started before dawn, Hovey said. By Wednesday morning, it was covered with a blue trap and hauled away in a pickup.
Since 1925, the monument has stood in the Confederate section of the cemetery, where at least 37 Confederate veterans and their families are buried.
The tall, granite rock marker holds a tablet emblazoned with three Confederate flags, two crosses and the words, "In memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States Army who have died or may die on the Pacific Coast."
It went on to say, "Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget — lest we forget."
"I don't think a lot of people were aware of its presence," Hovey said.
That was the case until the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed about California's Civil War-era history this month, said Tyler Cassity, the cemetery's president and co-owner.
The angry reaction to the piece escalated over the weekend when a man described by authorities as a white supremacist plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer was killed in the incident, and more than a dozen people were injured.
Later, a Change.org petition calling for the removal of the monument in the L.A. cemetery drew more than 1,700 signatures.
On Tuesday, someone wrote "No" in black marker across the monument's bronze plaque, Cassity said.
After the marker was vandalized, Cassity said he reached out to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which ultimately made the decision to take it down to prevent further acts of vandalism.
But the decision triggered anger and a series of hostile messages from people who opposed the monument's removal and had threatened to protest.
A spokeswoman for the Daughters of the Confederacy explained the group's decision to remove the monument this way:
"I was afraid to leave it overnight," said the spokeswoman, who asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisal. "We have had the cemetery remove it until we decide what to do."
Those calling for the monument's removal are "erasing history," she said.
"I do not believe in slavery — no sane human would believe in that today," she said. "But back then, they did."
She condemned the violence in Virginia and expressed sorrow for those killed and injured.
"We weep for the people who are involved in all of the things that are going on in our country — on both sides. We find hatred among white supremacists, we find hatred among Black Lives Matter," she said. "We should all come together and become one under the United States of America."
Cassity said he was relieved by the group's decision.
"I understood everyone's frustration, but I really felt like it wasn't our right to remove the monument. It's kind of against what we're supposed to be doing there, preserving history," Cassity said. "I think they made a wise decision given how quickly it escalated and what's happening right now in the country."
Over time, he said, the organization has been cooperative with the cemetery's requests to modify its annual memorial service. The group has stopped staging reenactments, as well as bringing guns and Confederate flags.
"We feel they have a right to commemorate their dead, but Confederate flags and guns can be disturbing to our visitors," Cassity said.
At the cemetery on Wednesday, visitor Monique Edwards, a South Los Angeles resident, said she came to see whether there was any public reaction to the monument's removal.
Edwards, who is African American, said its removal was not fair and should not be done because it was an important historical reminder.
"If you remove it, place it in a museum so that all of us can see and use it as a teachable moment," she said.
Aug. 16, 11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with details about the monument and its removal.
Aug. 16, 8:30 a.m.: This article was updated with the monument being removed.
11:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a spokeswoman for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.