Unlike the first three statues, city officials plan to take Lee's statue down during the day, with Mayor Mitch Landrieu planning a major speech Friday afternoon to explain his reasoning.
In a news release obtained by The Associated Press, the city said the statues were "erected decades after the Civil War to celebrate the 'Cult of the Lost Cause,' a movement recognized across the South as celebrating and promoting white supremacy."
The city plans to have extra security around the Lee statue Friday morning and will block off a one-block radius around Lee Circle to cars before and during the removal in anticipation of protests.
"Citizens have a right to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful protest," city officials said in the release. "We understand there are strong emotions surrounding this subject, and we ask that the public remain peaceful and respectful while demonstrating."
Landrieu had proposed the removal of the monuments after the 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos. That recharged the debate over whether Confederate emblems represent racism or an honorable heritage.
The Robert E. Lee statue was a familiar landmark for tourists and commuters who travel busy St. Charles Avenue by car or on one of the city's historic streetcars.
Erected in 1884, Lee's is the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed in accordance with a 2015 City Council vote.
The city removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis last week; a statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard on Wednesday; and a monument memorializing a deadly 1874 white-supremacist uprising in April.
Those three statues were taken down in the pre-dawn hours without advance public notice, a precautionary measure after officials said threats had been made against contractors and workers involved in the effort.
Of the four monuments, Lee's was easily the most prominent, with the bronze statue alone being close to 20 feet tall. It's an image of Lee standing tall in uniform, with his arms crossed defiantly, looking toward the northern horizon from atop a roughly 60-foot-tall column.
It towered over a traffic circle — Lee Circle — in an area between the office buildings of the city's business district and stately 19th century mansions in the nearby Garden District.
Landrieu drew blistering criticism from monument supporters and even some political allies. But he insisted throughout that the statues honoring the Confederate figures must go.
"We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city," Landrieu vowed last month after the first statue came down.
In the news release Thursday, the city said it has received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments, so it will solicit proposals on where they will go through an "open and transparent selection." Only nonprofits and governmental entities will be allowed to take part in the process, and the city said the process will include the Battle of Liberty Place monument as well as the statues of Davis and Lee. The final resting place of Beauregard's statue will be considered separately because of legal issues.
Anyone who submits a proposal to take one of the statues will have to describe how they will "place the statues in context both in terms of why they were first erected and why the city chose to remove them in 2015," the city said. They also cannot be displayed outdoors on public property within the city.
The city plans to leave the column where Lee's statue stood intact and will mount public art in its place.
An American flag will stand where the Davis statue used to be, and the area where the Liberty Place monument used to stand "will remain as is." The City Park Improvement Association, civic groups and the city will decided what will go where the Beauregard statue used to stand.
The city wants to finish the work during its tricentennial year in 2018.
Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at email@example.com, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland.
Associated Press reporters Kevin McGill and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.