The removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans last spring constitutes the most significant change in a major city’s commemorative landscape. What stands out to me, however, is not the removal of any one monument, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s address that accompanied the removal of the Lee monument on May 19.
I’ve never heard anything quite like it for an elected official. Landrieu’s speech was bold and cut to the core of the Lost Cause and its place in reinforcing the long history of racism and white supremacy. I can’t speak to whether the speech was somehow a political calculation. I would like to think that the thoughts expressed were sincere.
Over the past few years we have witnessed a new crop of public leaders who are much more willing to speak out on the place of Confederate iconography in public spaces. It speaks to changing demographics throughout parts of the former Confederacy, but it also reflects a dramatic shift in Civil War memory that no longer ignores the place of race, slavery, and emancipation in the war and its aftermath.
Consider Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia. In a recent debate she was asked directly what she would do about Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, as well as other Confederate monuments throughout the state. Abrams is direct and leaves her voters with no question as to her position, but it is the emotion and personal experience that infuses her response that makes this worth sharing.
I don’t know enough about Georgia politics to be able to comment on whether her position on Confederate monuments will resonate with enough voters to put her over the top. But even if it doesn’t, the fact that Abrams is willing to make such a bold and sincere statement in this race suggests that the shift in hearts and minds that has brought us to this point will likely continue.