The last of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans was removed on Friday.
While construction workers were taking down the enormous statue of Robert E. Lee, Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered a powerful and brutally honest speech about Confederate monuments, the reason they were erected, and why they must come down.
David Menschel, a criminal defense attorney, describes it as one of the “most honest speeches given by a Southern politician, maybe ever.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Here’s an excerpt:
America was the place where nearly 4,000 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.
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 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 ‘cult’ 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.
We strongly urge you to read the entire speech and share it with your friends. You can read and watch it here.
Bryan Stevenson explains how it feels to grow up black amid Confederated monuments.
“I think we have to increase our shame – and I don’t think shame is a bad thing.”
‘For years, his organization has been documenting and memorializing the actual lynchings that happened in America after slavery was abolished, and is now building a museum that will explore America’s brutal history on race with more honesty. He has thought deeply about the work America resistance to confronting the reality of our past, and the damage that that national act of forgetting — or, worse, of lying — has done to our present.’