On May 19, 2017, then-mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu took the final step of a plan that he had proposed to the city’s council nearly two years before: the full removal of all Confederate statues in the city.
His words and actions that day sent the debate from one largely on the periphery to the center stage of national discourse.
Landrieu has published the book “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History,” which is about the debate he began in New Orleans. In it, he argues that America has yet to adequately face up to issues of race and equality in America — to the nation’s detriment.
“It’s really more a book about race than about the monuments,” Landrieu told WTOP. “But the monuments are an example of the challenges we have relating to it.”
Landrieu and the City Council began the campaign to have the statues removed after an avowed white supremacist attacked a predominantly African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and killed nine parishioners.
“Right now, we have a resurgence in white supremacy and white nationalism that is resulting in death — and that’s not an exaggeration,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu came to see how people of color would perceive the statues, he said.
“The monuments are a reflection of an old view of history that wasn’t accurate,” he said. “They continue to send a message to African-Americans in the South that even though the Confederacy lost, they were still in control, and African-Americans were still not welcome.”
Several cities across America — Baltimore among them — followed New Orleans’ example and took down their own Confederate statues.
Landrieu’s name was talked about as a possible contender in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but he dispelled the rumors that he was entering the ring.
“Of course I thought about it — it’s hard not to when people talk about you, it’s hard not to hear,” Landrieu said. “And it’s a wonderful thing. But that’s a big step, and there are a lot of other wonderful candidates …”
Hear Landrieu’s full interview with WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard.