In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History

"An extraordinarily powerful journey that is both political and personal...An important book for everyone in America to read." --Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo Da Vinci and Steve Jobs The New Orleans mayor who removed the Confederate statues confronts the racism that shapes us and argues for white America to reckon with its past. A passio...

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Title:In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History
Author:Mitch Landrieu
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In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History Reviews

  • Kusaimamekirai

    The Civil War is something America has never really comes to terms with. Hell, we can barely agree on what to call it with the Southern part of the country still calling it “The War Between the States” or for those less inclined toward subtlety, “The War of Northern Aggression”. A symbol of this are the scores of monuments to Southern generals and soldiers that dot the American landscape, often going unnoticed by the majority of the people who pass them on a daily basis. For some they are just quaint historical markers of Southern pride. Nothing more nothing less. For many Black Americans however, these statues are keenly felt reminders of a time where men held them in chains and even when the literal chains were removed, figurative ones remained. They are reminders that a not insignificant number of White Americans fight passionately to preserve these symbols and perpetuate the myths of racial superiority even in 2018.

    Mitch Landrieu’s book discusses his 8 years as the mayor of New Orleans and his battle to take these statues down. The actual discussion of the statues removal is limited to the end of the book but in discussing the racial history of New Orleans, Katrina, and others events that deeply affected the city, they are lurking with a watchful eye in the background, never too far away. For Landrieu, especially 10 years after Katrina and the rebuilding of New Orleans, he began to see with the help of friends (Winton Marsalis in particular), that if a new and inclusive New Orleans were truly to rise from the ashes, it could not do so under the shadow of these divisive monuments. The road to their removal took true courage as Landrieu, his family, his friends, even the people hired to supply the cranes suffered death threats and constant harassment. As Landrieu asks himself with understandable incredulity, are we still really fighting the barrels of the Civil War, 150 years later? Sadly the answer is yes. However the successful removal of these statues, and the cooperation of a host of people it would’ve been impossible without, is an encouraging sign that at least some Americans are willing to stop looking back at a falsified and idealized past that was full of misery for so many, and walk albeit slowly into a new and more inclusive future.

    As an aside to this wonderful book, I highly recommend searching on youtube for the speech Landrieu gave announcing

    the removal of these monuments. It is an inspiring and powerful speech and if someone sent me a Landrieu for President 2020 t-shirt after watching it, I’d wear it proudly.

  • Jill Meyer

    I'm trying to read up on possible Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race. Mitch Landrieu, currently mayor of New Orleans and formerly Lt Governor of Louisiana, has been mentioned as a dark horse, lurking on the edges of the political landscape. Landrieu's new book, "In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History", is a good look at three major issues that he has handled in his time in the two major offices he has held in Louisiana.

    Landrieu writes about his family -

    I'm trying to read up on possible Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race. Mitch Landrieu, currently mayor of New Orleans and formerly Lt Governor of Louisiana, has been mentioned as a dark horse, lurking on the edges of the political landscape. Landrieu's new book, "In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History", is a good look at three major issues that he has handled in his time in the two major offices he has held in Louisiana.

    Landrieu writes about his family - his father Moon was for many years mayor of New Orleans - and his liberal upbringing. Born in 1960 - one of nine children to Moon and Vera Landrieu - Mitch went to Catholic schools and colleges and eventually became a lawyer, like his father. He entered politics on a state legislative level and ran for and won higher state offices. As Lt Governor under Kathleen Blanco, he participated in the cleanup of the Katrina hurricane in 2005. He names names on the people he felt were not helpful - Mayor Ray Nagin - is held up as basically worthless. Katrina is the first of the three issues Landrieu writes about in depth; the other two are the Confederate Monuments and the problems in the black area of New Orleans.

    Okay, the thing you can ask is "how honest is Mitch Landrieu?" I don't know but these pre-election books are never, and I mean NEVER, written with anything other than self-aggrandizement. The time for complete honesty in a political memoir comes, if it does come at all, in a final memoir after a politician has left public life. Mitch Landrieu's book is an interesting look at the life of a white Southern liberal politician. He's a good writer and I think he was probably as honest as he could be. Will we see him in national office? Beats me...

  • Shavon

    People are somehow reading this history book and getting distracted by the fact that the author is a politician. But let's not be so cynical that we overlook the issue of race solely because someone in the public square is raising it. A white politician is an ideal messenger for an historical account of race relations in the Deep South and the rest of the U.S.

    This is a book review of the content of Mayor Landrieu's message and the manner of his delivery. I love the fact that Landrieu chose to d

    People are somehow reading this history book and getting distracted by the fact that the author is a politician. But let's not be so cynical that we overlook the issue of race solely because someone in the public square is raising it. A white politician is an ideal messenger for an historical account of race relations in the Deep South and the rest of the U.S.

    This is a book review of the content of Mayor Landrieu's message and the manner of his delivery. I love the fact that Landrieu chose to deliver his take on the history of race in the form of a story about his childhood in New Orleans, the comparative experience of his black friends living there, and how time he spent attending college up North and traveling abroad to Holocaust sites informed his insights into both overt and subtle racism back home.

    Landrieu began his quest for understanding while investigating confederate statutes that had been erected on government property in New Orleans. Why were the statutes erected? Was it to celebrate the South's participation (and defeat) in the Civil War or was it to deny blacks the freedoms won through the Union's victory in the war? When were the statutes erected? Who erected them? Landrieu needed the answers to those questions in order to decide whether the statutes should remain. His quest for answers led him through 300 years of history dating to the founding of New Orleans as the major North American slave-trading post, the Civil War that ended official slavery, the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras of government-sanctioned unofficial slavery, the Civil Rights movement ending separate but (un)equal, the Post-Civil-Rights-new-Jim-Crow-mass-incarceration period (the elimination of which is only now gaining some political traction), and the modern day white supremacy movement and dog-whistle politics that resurfaced in earnest with the election of Obama and the birth of the Tea Party and its leader, Donald Trump.

    If Landrieu has a political motivation for the book, my take is that he wants to preserve or define his 30 year legacy in Louisiana politics. (In addition to being Mayor of New Orleans, he's served in the state legislature and as Lt. Governor.) That reputation has taken a hit within the white community because he took down the confederate monuments. He uses this book to explain why he did it and to educate his white counterparts about the true history of race. This lesson could not be delivered by Barack Obama or any other person whose skin is black because a black person would invariably be viewed as preaching to white folks about how they should feel. White folks have to get there on their own. And when they do, black folks must be forgiving so that we can heal as a nation and move forward together.

    So I hope readers will take this book for what it is. Don't gloss over the racial stuff and just classify the book as a political memoir. This is a history book and it's a race relations book written by someone on the front lines. It's assessable, well-written, and a must-read.

  • Jane

    Things I learned and understand better because of this book:

    1. Schools in southern states teach that the "war between the states" was fought for state's rights and had nothing to do with slavery.

    I have friends from the south who whole-heartedly believe this and will not listen to any discussion about the Civil War being about slavery. I've always been so confused about that; now I know why.

    2. The cult of the Lost Cause. This is an organization started by wealthy white southerners around the tur

    Things I learned and understand better because of this book:

    1. Schools in southern states teach that the "war between the states" was fought for state's rights and had nothing to do with slavery.

    I have friends from the south who whole-heartedly believe this and will not listen to any discussion about the Civil War being about slavery. I've always been so confused about that; now I know why.

    2. The cult of the Lost Cause. This is an organization started by wealthy white southerners around the turn of the last century to improve the reputation of the American South. Usually the winners write the history, but not in this case. They raised monuments and created a whitewashed history they could be proud of. If this doesn't seen real, look it up. All the sources are there.

    3. Many of the African Americans living in New Orleans felt these statues were a symbol of their oppression.

    I never thought of that. Oops. If I had made the effort to mentally walk in their shoes, that might have occurred to me.

    4. Interesting to hear first hand about Katrina and the long recovery--although that part of the book went on a little long for me.

    He loves his hometown, and I understand better why people are willing to sacrifice in order to return to it.

  • Scott Martin

    This book is memoir from the mayor of New Orleans and his role in taking down a series of statues honoring Confederate figures in the city and igniting a controversy that sparked intensive debate across the nation. The work starts as an autobiography of a Louisiana politician, whose experience with race started early on, as his father was mayor of New Orleans at the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. As he moves through life, Landrieu discusses how he always seems to come back to

    This book is memoir from the mayor of New Orleans and his role in taking down a series of statues honoring Confederate figures in the city and igniting a controversy that sparked intensive debate across the nation. The work starts as an autobiography of a Louisiana politician, whose experience with race started early on, as his father was mayor of New Orleans at the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. As he moves through life, Landrieu discusses how he always seems to come back to dealing with issues of race and how government can and should help resolve the racial divide in America.

    In his times in Louisiana politics, Landrieu notes how Louisiana had many different individuals with very different agendas on race. Many politicians worked to try to improve race relations, but just as many didn't. Landrieu spends a great deal of time recounting the shocking rise of former Klansman and noted white nationalist David Duke into a position of power in the Louisiana Senate. He takes great pains to note that Duke's rise in the late 1980s/early 1990s mirrored the rise of Donald Trump from 2015-2017. All during his time as the Lieutenant Governor and Mayor, Landrieu always faces the specter of racial divisions. It is towards the end of his time as mayor that Landrieu faces the issue of a series of Confederate statues in the city, and how, at the request of a friend Wynton Marsalis, Landrieu decided to remove the statues. He covers the history of those statues, and notes the difficulties he had trying to get them removed. Eventually, they were, but it divided the city and cost him some support.

    It is a timely and engagement memoir. It can be a little self-serving, especially the parts discussing how he did such as wonderful job post-Katrina (perhaps the city was not as great a paradise as he made it seem, even when he discusses the gun violence). Still, he covers the key aspects of the history of the city, the statues and the reasons why they were put up and why they had to come down. You may not agree with the reasons, but you can't fault the logic, and he presents a good case for why he did what he did.

    It is always a bonus when the author reads his or her own work, and that is the case here. Definitely worth the read.

  • Stuart Rodriguez

    There’s a lot to like about this book. Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, gives, I think, an honest and down-to-earth account of his life, from his youth growing up in New Orleans, to his early tangles in state legislature with neo-Nazi David Duke, to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and finally, to the removal of the four Confederate monuments from New Orleans in 2017.

    I appreciated that Landrieu’s recollections felt clear-eyed, and he doesn’t mince words—he is vocal in his admonition of

    There’s a lot to like about this book. Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, gives, I think, an honest and down-to-earth account of his life, from his youth growing up in New Orleans, to his early tangles in state legislature with neo-Nazi David Duke, to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and finally, to the removal of the four Confederate monuments from New Orleans in 2017.

    I appreciated that Landrieu’s recollections felt clear-eyed, and he doesn’t mince words—he is vocal in his admonition of the racist themes that engendered white people’s support in-state of David Duke (and, more broadly, white support of Donald Trump), and does not equivocate about the cause of the Civil War (slavery), and about white supremacist power dynamics at play with regards to the Confederate monuments his administration finally removed. The themes he discusses won’t at all be news to a lot people, but the topics he discusses are, I think, a good learning opportunity for many other white folks, and that’s where this book is at its best.

    Otherwise, Landrieu spends a lot of time discussing his life growing up, his family, and leadership qualifications. I take these aspects of the book with a grain of salt because they feel like the prelude to a run for higher office, but much of the book is about his response to Hurricane Katrina, and how he (and the city/state/federal government) responded to the crisis and what actions he took to rebuild the city. It really was fascinating to learn what goes into that kind of crisis management, and hey, I’ll be honest: it worked, and if/when Landrieu runs for higher office, I’ll be paying attention.

    I listened to the audiobook, and Landrieu did a very good job with his own narration. He comes across as an affable, approachable, down-to-earth guy, and this book is a breeze to listen to (it’s less than six hours long).

  • Jeri Rowe

    I grew up in the cradle of the Civil War, a city where Fort Sumter is part of who we are -- and always will be.

    I'm from Charleston., S.C. Do love that city with all its flaws. When I was young, my family attended a church downtown that had a gym right across from the slave market. I always walked through that place because it was a like a maze for me. It stretched for a few blocks, had a concrete floor, a low roof and oppressively hot in the summer even with it open to the street on both sides.

    I grew up in the cradle of the Civil War, a city where Fort Sumter is part of who we are -- and always will be.

    I'm from Charleston., S.C. Do love that city with all its flaws. When I was young, my family attended a church downtown that had a gym right across from the slave market. I always walked through that place because it was a like a maze for me. It stretched for a few blocks, had a concrete floor, a low roof and oppressively hot in the summer even with it open to the street on both sides. It had this open-air feel of a barn. I'd grab ice cream, check out what trinkets were for sale and always see black women sell these beautiful woven baskets. Very innocent, very Southern. And yet ...

    I never really contemplated how hundreds of Africans were sold like cattle in that very place. My family never really talked about it. But I figured that was all behind us. The past is the past, I thought. But like Faulkner, I've come to believe the past is never really the past. I've now reached my fifth decade, and as a journalist who has written about race and racism over the past three decades, I realized long ago that our country needs to deal with race and racism or we will never move forward as a nation.

    So, I viewed Mitch Landrieu's book as a vital read. I saw him as a brother in arms. He's a few years older than me, and like me, Landrieu believes that we have to ask ourselves tough questions, start tough conversations and make tough decisions -- like taking down four Confederate statues in New Orleans.

    Landrieu did just that in his last term as New Orleans' mayor. Remember his speech? That ... was killer. In his memoir, you see how he wrestles with that decision, and I believe Landrieu delivers a sermon for our times. It's one we all need to read.

    People have -- and some have lambasted Landrieu for what he wrote.

    I've read a handful of reviews of "In The Shadow," and I've seen him described as everything from an opportunistic politician to a wanna-be writer who employs poor syntax. I chalk that up to the subject he's addressing. It's like juggling dynamite. A discussion of race is the most emotionally explosive issue of our time -- and I believe it always will be.

    He writes:

    "To move forward, we must find that new space on race here, a zone of belief that holds promise for a nation committed to justice for all of our people, making right what we have failed to do, and insisting that we will do what it takes to reach the next threshold for humankind.

    "We find that new space, in politics and society, if we confirm our belief in democracy as a welcome table for people created equal under God, where the pursuit of equity is an open field for opportunity and responsibility.

    "As the scientists continually course-correct a mission error in order to make the next flight safer, so we must learn to revised the mistakes in our perceptions of history, to acknowledge with honesty what we went wrong so that we can learn how to make it right.

    "We are all being called to a better day, a better South, a better America. I have great faith that we will respond well to that call. now is the time to choose our path forward."

    Do love that line about a "better South." So believe that.

    Now, I wish Landrieu's book was more nuanced. I mean, I want to see him wrestle more internally with this. But what he addresses is huge and how he addresses it works for me. And as a white Southerner who wrestled with his region's own history, I see where he's coming from. And I am listening.

  • Marjorie

    This book was too much like a political campaign ad for my taste.

  • Sean Chick

    A brief book commissioned by a mayor (there is no way he wrote this) who was vaulted to moderate political stardom for defeating inanimate objects. The truth is under Landrieu New Orleans has rapidly gentrified, with its black population declining and forced to the West Bank. The culture is actively diluted as residents are forced out by AirBNB. I live across from the Faubourg Treme, birthplace of Jazz and America's oldest integrated neighborhood. Beauregard of statue fame once lived there. It i

    A brief book commissioned by a mayor (there is no way he wrote this) who was vaulted to moderate political stardom for defeating inanimate objects. The truth is under Landrieu New Orleans has rapidly gentrified, with its black population declining and forced to the West Bank. The culture is actively diluted as residents are forced out by AirBNB. I live across from the Faubourg Treme, birthplace of Jazz and America's oldest integrated neighborhood. Beauregard of statue fame once lived there. It is becoming a vast AirBNB. The same has already happened to the Fauboroug Marigny, home of Jelly Roll Morton and once the haunt of artists and weirdos. In the 1980s Tom Waits felt at home in that part of town. Now, it is just tourist attraction number 2.

    The actual mechanics of racial and class inequalities have only accelerated in his term. So too did crime, while the city suffered two major floods last year because the government failed to maintain the pumping stations. The city's population is declining, and in the last two years half of my friends moved away; they could no longer afford it. For the first time since 2005 we are losing residents. This is neo-liberalism in its most classic form. Hard left on minor cultural issues, but to the right of Reagan when it comes time for hard policy. The worst part of this book is his discussion of rebuilding New Orleans after Katrinia. What he means is gentrification, and removing a statue of Jefferson Davis is part of gentrification as much as anything. It is the removal of the unpleasant. In that way, black people and Davis have finally found a common thread in the disneyification of New Orleans.

    Regardless of how one feels about the statues, whether together or separately, there was no plan for what to do with them. Appeals to compromise were tossed aside and buried in the loud left rhetoric that failed to concede that some people had perfectly reasonable reasons to keep a statue of Lee or particularly Beauregard around. Or at least that said statues should be taken down with some nod to the good things both men did. They were taken down in a way that will certainly make the left applaud, but struck others as heavy-handed and arrogant. What's worse is it was done by a man who okayed the demolition of the Canal Street Woolworth's, site of one of the major Civil Rights protests of the 1960s. In its place there were going to be condos for the wealthy. Now it appears it will be a Hard Cafe Hotel. This is the true legacy of Landrieu.

    This book is a lot of posturing by a man eager to claim credit on statues, which he never mentioned before July 2015 and did not care much about in 2016. Until his speech, he was very detached from the whole process. He has been detached since they came down unless it involves his upcoming failed presidential run. Sadly, many who do not live here only see the vapid praise in the media, utterly lacking in critical assessments. Call it the Fox News effect, but as of late only a fool would pretend the various media outlets are not biased. We are going back to the days when newspapers had such honest titles as The Times-Democrat and Richmond Whig. So Landrieu is praised for a relatively minor victory in a city that has the highest violent death rate per capita. Journalism is dying and the wounds are self-inflicted. Any journalist worth their salt would ask him some hard questions, but they approve what he is doing so he gets a pass.

    We do not have sympathy for things we deem outside the moral pale. It is what connects us to the past, our appetite for conformity and our love of shame and superiority. We merely switch around those we decide to ostracize. However, if I compare Landrieu's speech to the feelings of Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, I am struck by Grant's eloquence and caring, as compared to Landrieu's simplified and Manichean vision of history. I leave you with Grant's words, because they are far better than my words, Landrieu's words, and the words of his ghost-writer.

    "What General Lee's feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us."

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