Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor of New Orleans in 2010. In June 2015, more than a year into his second term, nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina were killed by a white supremacist. Responding to the racially motivated violence with a dramatic decision of conscience, Landrieu boldly sought and secured city council support to remove four of New Orleans’ Confederate monuments – statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, and one dedicated to those who opposed Reconstruction. While civil rights advocates had long called for the removal of New Orleans’ Confederate monuments, Landrieu was the first elected official to take on the controversial issue directly by conceiving and implementing a plan to remove them.
The move was met with fierce opposition. Landrieu faced impassioned constituents who argued the statues represented an important part of the state's identity and culture. Defenders of the monuments tried every possible legal channel to halt their removal. Confederate sympathizers from around the country and threats sent from across the internet added fuel to the debate. Contractors who signed up for the removal received multiple death threats, and one of them had his car firebombed.
After a bitterly fought battle, in May 2017, the fourth of the longstanding statues was removed. While the monuments were dismantled at night to protect the contractors, Landrieu did not allow the significance of the moment to go unnoticed. He made a sweeping speech candidly reflecting on the history of slavery and brutality that undergirded the monuments, and appealing to public conscience to reckon truthfully with America’s enduring legacy of racism.
"This is not about politics. This is not about blame or retaliation," Landrieu said. "This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once. This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most important, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong."