“Has the white South truly reckoned with the Civil War?” The mayor of New Orleans, scion of an old progressive family, writes of the controversy surrounding his city’s removal of monuments to the Confederacy.
Landrieu acquired national renown during the fraught post-Charlottesville spring of 2017 when he delivered a reasoned if quietly defiant speech about the reasons that New Orleans decided to remove four Confederate monuments, a decision that “wasn’t sitting well with some of the powerful business interests in the state.” In fact, some of the contractors who bid to do the removal work came under the threat of death, even as inflamed neo-Confederates and their allies protested what Landrieu defended as the prerogative of a democratically elected city government. That opposition, the author unhesitatingly declares, represents institutionalized racism: “You may have the law on your side, but if someone else controls the money, the machines or the hardware you need to make your new law work, you are screwed.” African-Americans, he adds, know all about this perversion of justice, but it’s an eye-opener for others who have not experienced that update of the peculiar institution. The statues—of Robert E. Lee, Pierre Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and the “Reconstruction-era organization of racial militants” called the White League—may disappear, but the attitudes of those defending them will take longer to erase, particularly given the intransigent leadership of people like David Duke. Landrieu charts his family’s long history of racial fairness; his father, as he recalls, “voted against twenty-nine Jim Crow laws at the [Louisiana] legislature in 1960,” falling afoul of the segregationist leadership. The author concludes by noting that while the tide seems to be turning, the conflict endures, with “domestic terrorism” afoot as “part of the ho-hum racism that eats through our country every day.”
A powerful, welcome manifesto in the cause of a new and better South—and a “better America.”