New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a historic speech at Gallier Hall on Friday, May 19, 2017 as the final of four Confederate monuments was taken down. So ended a process Landrieu began in 2015, when at his request the City Council declared the monuments public nuisances. The speech is excerpted below with a link to the full text. Below that, Martin Marty compares Landrieu’s speech to the Hebrew prophets. And below that, Southern historian Malcolm Suber of #TakeEmDownNOLA critiques how Mayor Landrieu subverted a much larger city-wide process aimed at taking down all such statues, not a representative four.
From Mitch Landrieu:
“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 cauldron 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 ‘separate 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. ….”
Read the rest of the speech here.
From Martin Marty’s commentary “Memorial Day, Mayor Landrieu, and the American Future”:
“Let me compare Landrieu’s genre to the forgotten language and intentions of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Landrieu addressed his city as “a people.” So did the prophets, like Jeremiah, revered in and beyond Judaism and Christianity. Landrieu was defending the decision and act of taking down the city’s four most prominent icons—the prophets would have called them “idols”—in the form of statues commemorating long-revered General Robert E. Lee and lesser Confederates who defended the enslavement of American blacks. The expressions of others before the removal of the statues were not always eloquent or healing: defenders of the statues and representatives of what the mayor would call the “Cult of the Lost Cause” often rallied with shouts or whispered with threats.
As the statues were being lifted up from their platforms and lowered to the ground, Landrieu—not to his or anyone’s surprise—was the subject of death threats. Yet, like Jeremiah, he spoke of “a future and a hope.” His speech exemplified Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of prophecy as “hope projected backward.” In a time of bitter divisions in New Orleans and throughout the nation at large, Landrieu spoke not as a great denunciator, but as a great enunciator of directions for his contemporaries to take. Unmistakable was his identification with his great city, to some of whose many assets he referred in terms that a tourist bureau could envy.”
Read the rest of Martin Marty’s commentary here.
Malcolm Suber’s commentary in the Lens critiquing Mitch Landrieu’s approach:
“The two-year struggle to take down the white supremacy statues (which is really the culmination of a decades-long struggle for removal by the Black community) revolved around whether these statues were on land belonging to the city. State and federal courts ruled that these were indeed public lands belonging to the citizens of New Orleans. The courts further ruled that the city could do whatever it desired to statues present on public lands.
Mr. Mayor, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.The mayor’s attempt to present the future of these former monument spaces as a done deal seems to be an attempt by Mitch to preclude any other voices and opinions from being heard. Take ‘Em Down NOLA calls for a series of town hall meetings where we solicit what residents want to replace these monuments with.”