Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 1/7
May 23, 2017
This is the full text of the remarks delivered last week by the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch
Landrieu, upon his removal of the last of the city’s several Confederate monuments.
Thank you for coming.
The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of
years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way — for
both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans —
the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando De Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur
de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of
Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the
Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.
You see — New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling caldron of
many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently
exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one. But
there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s
largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and
shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.
America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in
Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ʻseparate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming
to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the
monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is
the searing truth.
And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no
prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing
to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame… all of it
Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the
Removal of Confederate
Monuments in New Orleans
10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 2/7
happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and
the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie
by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.
For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy
and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said
at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History &
Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So
today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost
Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing
and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.
The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard
statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which
became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ʻcult’ had one goal — through
monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that
the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the
founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took
down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought
against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These
statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign
history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy;
ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross
on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who
walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further
doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out,
the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the
Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now
famous ʻcornerstone speech’ that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth,
that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior
race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the
history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears… I want to try to gently peel from
your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us. And make
straight a wrong turn we made many years ago — we can more closely connect with
integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path
toward a better city and a more perfect union.
10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 3/7
Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to
contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction
block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew
Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what
this artifact tells us about history… on a stone where day after day for years, men and
women… bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy
of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the
singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the
unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”
A piece of stone — one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten
or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today… for a long time, even
though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s
long proud history of fighting for civil rights… I must have passed by those monuments a
million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not
judging people. We all take our own journey on race.
I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the
truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our
exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the
perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade
daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?
Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to
encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these
monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her
potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple
questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes
into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We
can’t walk away from this truth.
And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to
do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these
Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not
about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our
problems at once.
This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to
acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for
ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.
Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and yes with violence.
10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 4/7
To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an
inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad
prescription for our future. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue.
What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it.
Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the
Confederacy was wrong.
And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else —
to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to
destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries
old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the
essential truth. We are better together than we are apart.
Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to
the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our
joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this
funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the
ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about
muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.
All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing
something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of
many we are one — and better for it! Out of many we are one — and we really do love it!
And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again,
remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws
and corrects them.”
We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each
other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in
historical denial. We still find a way to say ʻwait’/not so fast, but like Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change.
And we need to change now.
No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as
well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive
society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every
day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and
fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their
presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that
the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.
10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 5/7
Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world
renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful
daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after
one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to
pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.
He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride… it’s always made me feel as if they
were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in
my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is and it is long overdue.
Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can
follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.
A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond; let us not miss this
opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is
the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have
been, had we gotten it right in the first place.
We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves — at this point in our history — after
Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil
catastrophe and after the tornado — if presented with the opportunity to build monuments
that told our story or to curate these particular spaces… would these monuments be what
we want the world to see? Is this really our story?
We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the
wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all
our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments
were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only
new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the
table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each
citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold
fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That
is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one
nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all… not some. We all are part of one
nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New
Orleanians are in… all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is
rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called
the Confederacy we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named
New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.
10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 6/7
After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of
frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led
commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New
Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of
the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and
the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed. So now is the time to come
together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making
this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.
Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned and now universally loved Nelson
Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable
and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of
a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s
humanity.” So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.
The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our
nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never
forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community,
we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is
our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part
of our history.
Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly
lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest President
Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite
as one people when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in
the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to
bind up the nation’s wounds…to do all which may achieve and cherish — a just and lasting
peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Thank you.
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10/5/2019 Opinion | Mitch Landrieu’s Speech on the Removal of Confederate Monuments in New Orleans – The New York Times 7/7
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