Statues Fall, But Spirits Are Lifted Up

Why you need to read Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans

(Credit: Matthew Hinton)

Statues fall. Sometimes of their volition. But most often, they are removed because they are in disconnect with the era they represent and the period we’re living. Not like a scar we’d try to hide, but more like a foreign object from a different planet. That’s what happened in New Orleans earlier this week with the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

I won’t argue whether this was right or wrong. Nor whether it will help heal all those who felt offended by this symbol of the Civil War and slavery. I just want you to read, or better watch the speech that Mitch Landrieu gave upon the removal of the last of the city’s several Confederate monuments.

Mitch Landrieu is the Mayor of New Orleans. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he loves his city. He loves its peoples, who have come from literally all over the world. He loves its music, “this funky thing [the world] called jazz.” He loves its food, its architecture, and what makes it uniquely American. He loves New Orleans for its greatness, but also for its flaws. And he wants to correct them.

This is the speech you wish you had written. For it robs you from its very first line and doesn’t release its grasp until the very end. The questions raised in the speech are thought-provoking, especially in today’s divided world; the quotes are even better. But what this speech does — what only a great speech, or a great movie can do — is leave you with a powerful image. An image (real or imaginary) that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

How can they look into their daughter’s eyes — how could anyone look into those eyes — and convince her that this man from the past is there to encourage her and help her see a future with limitless potential?

For me, it’s the image of that young fifth grade African American girl. She’s lived in New Orleans all her life and she passed by that statue on her way to school every single day. But as Mitch Landrieu himself admitted, he must have passed by that statue a million times without giving it a second thought. But now that young girl is asking her parents who Robert E. Lee is, and why he stands atop of her beautiful city?

This is the moment of truth: How will they possibly answer this? How can they look into their daughter’s eyes — how could anyone look into those eyes — and convince her that this man from the past is there to encourage her and help her see a future with limitless potential? And that’s when the speech shows how history is really about the present by asking us one simple question: Have you ever thought that if that young girl’s potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

What this speech does — what only a great speech, or a great movie can do — is leave you with a powerful image.

For the Mayor of New Orleans, this is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. And we can’t walk away from this truth.

Now, one speech won’t solve all the problems related to race, equality, and integrity. But in an age where too often these questions are reduced to soundbites appealing to the lowest common denominator, it’s good to see that some people are not ready to compromise.


Christophe Larouer has been developing thought leadership and strategic narratives for high-level government and business leaders for over a decade. The content of this communication is entirely my own and does not reflect the opinions of or endorsement by any federal agency or the government as a whole. You can also follow me here.