NEW ORLEANS - Speaking as work crews placed straps around the statue of Robert E. Lee that has towered above Lee Circle since the late 1800s, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu highlighted the unpleasant history of enslavement and lynching in New Orleans.
Landrieu drew a direct line from the Native American tribes who called the area home long before European settlers moved into the land.
“New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures,” he said. “There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American model ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ out of many, we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront.”
The city was one of the biggest slave markets in the country, Landrieu said, with hundreds of thousand of enslaved people were bought and sold up the Mississippi River.
“America was a place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow American citizens were lynched, 540 in Louisiana alone, where our courts enshrined ‘Separate but Equal,’ where freedom riders were beaten to a bloody pulp,” Landrieu said. “So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well, what I just described to you is our history as well.”
Landrieu called that aspect of our shared history a “searing truth, and it immediately begs the question 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 - of pain, of sacrifice, of shame - all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.”
Critics of the removal process that has seen three Confederate-era monuments come down in recent months, with the Robert E. Lee statue soon to be the fourth, are “eerily silent” about that chapter of history, Landrieu said.
“There is a difference, you see between the remembrance of history and the reverence of it,” he said. “We cannot be afraid of the truth.”
Landrieu detailed the creation of what he called the "cult of the lost cause" that he said was a concerted effort to "re-brand" the south more than a dozen years after the end of the Civil War by lionizing heroes of the Confederacy.
"It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America," he said. "They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause, they were not patriots."
The Civil War is over, Landrieu said, and we are all better off for it.