A New Orleans city worker wearing body armor and a face covering as he measures the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Louisiana House committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs voted Wednesday to advance House Bill 71 that would forbid the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as the City Council in New Orleans tries to move three statues of Confederate luminaries from public spaces and into museums. Protests that have at times turned violent have erupted at the site of the Jefferson Davis Monument after the Battle at Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night on April 24.

A New Orleans city worker wearing body armor and a face covering as he measures the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Louisiana House committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs voted Wednesday to advance House Bill 71 that would forbid the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as the City Council in New Orleans tries to move three statues of Confederate luminaries from public spaces and into museums. Protests that have at times turned violent have erupted at the site of the Jefferson Davis Monument after the Battle at Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night on April 24.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu made national news last year when he delivered a speech about why the city took down four Confederate monuments.

The South lost the war. The war was about slavery. And Landrieu described how the statues were meant “to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. “

Landrieu faced protests and the contractors removing the monuments faced death threats from “the Cult of the Lost Cause,” but the statues came down.

In his new book, Landrieu argues that it’s time for a better South. Is the South, and the nation, ready to reckon with its past?

Guests

  • Mitch Landrieu Mayor of New Orleans; president, U.S. Conference of Mayors; author: "In The Shadow Of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History"; @MitchLandrieu

Read An Excerpt Of Landrieu's Book

From In the Shadow of Statues by Mitch Landrieu.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Mitch Landrieu.

When I announced in 2015 that we were going to take down four icons of the Confederate past, the front desk at City Hall logged a flood of calls from people burning with anger. The familiar hate was back.

“He’s ruining this city, just like his father. He’s gonna pay!”

             “He better watch out!”

 

And yet, other voices from the past came back to com- fort me.

            “Say, baby, how’s your daddy? Best mayor we had.”

            “Hey, young man! Tell your momma hello! Love that woman.”

 

I cannot remember a time when the issue of race was not part of my life or our family’s. It’s like a song that you cannot get out of your head; it keeps playing over and over. Race is a soundtrack that stays with me. New voices roll in: hostility at one side; a benevolent approval—love, if you will—at the other; and a swirl of voices in the middle range, hashing out what it means to be American, our common identity as citizens. I take heart that many white people have traveled far in their views on race. Many young people embrace diversity as a natural order of things, with no memory of a South governed by segregationists and white supremacists. And yet, today’s public square teems with hatred of an intensity we haven’t seen since the 1960s. The violence by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, shows that hatred will grow if we do not shine the light of God’s love and human reason on the darkness and chart a path of healing for the country as a whole.

New Orleans mirrors a map of the world, a city where people of many countries have settled, shaping a beloved culture that has been enriched with jazz, Creole and Cajun cuisine, and so much more. We’ve shared culture across racial lines, but we also have played a seminal role in some of the saddest chapters in American history. More humans were sold into slavery in New Orleans than anywhere else in the country. Hundreds of thousands of souls were sold here, then shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture. As we entertain visitors from around the world along our beautiful riverfront, it is hard to fathom that at this very spot, ships emptied their human cargo from Senegal, marching their captives down the street to what is now one of our famous hotels, but there are no historical markers on that path. No monuments or flags to the lives destroyed.

New Orleans is where black Creoles launched a legal challenge to segregated public transportation, a case that led to the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which en- shrined Jim Crow’s “separate but equal” into law. In 1892 a mixed-race man named Homer Plessy attempted to board a whites-only train car but was arrested because he was one- eighth black. Sixty years later, Freedom Riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. Today, though, even as white identity politics rage, I take comfort that my city understands that diversity is our strength, greeting visitors with warmth and a cultural effervescence, even as we resolve to work hard to evolve and heal. We all have so far to go.

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