NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When New Orleans removed four Confederate monuments last year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu became a national voice on race in America, a subject he explores in a new book.
Parts memoir, history lesson and political manifesto, Landrieu’s “In the Shadow of Statues” goes on sale Tuesday, prompting speculation about what might be next for the term-limited Democrat as he prepares to leave office.
The book arrives on shelves as Landrieu enjoys national recognition for his leadership in removing the monuments and his widely covered speech decrying the icons as symbols of a post-Civil War “cult of the Lost Cause” aimed at celebrating and sustaining white supremacy.
The book, the speech, a recent well-received turn at the microphone during Washington’s annual Gridiron Dinner — all have fueled talk among political pundits that the mayor might be presidential material.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Landrieu, 57, said when asked during an Associated Press interview if he’s considering a run for the Democratic nomination. He was preparing for a multicity tour to promote his book and said hasn’t decided what he’ll do when he leaves office May 1.
A quick read at a little more than 200 pages, the book opens with Landrieu discussing his incredulity at not being able to find contractors willing to take down the monuments in the face of vehement public opposition and the threat of violence.
The book, subtitled “A White Southerner Confronts History,” flashes back to his childhood, including death threats called into his family home and school. His father, Moon Landrieu, had supported desegregation as a state legislator and City Council member and, as mayor in the 1970s, brought black people into positions of power in city government — drawing anger from hidebound segregationists.
It fast-forwards to 2015 when similar threats and curses were coming into City Hall, along with words of encouragement, after plans to remove the statues were announced — spurred by Dylann Roof’s racially motivated massacre of nine worshippers at a South Carolina church. Roof had posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag.
“I cannot remember a time when the issue of race was not part of my life or our family’s,” Landrieu writes.
Landrieu’s belief that the nation, and the South, still must confront the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow permeate the book.
He writes that President Donald Trump’s “flailing inability to lead” and his political support from white nationalists mark a nationwide echo of what Louisiana went through in the 1990s when Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke made credible runs for the U.S. Senate and for governor.
“We saw it all coming in Louisiana years ago,” writes Landrieu, a state lawmaker when Duke served briefly in the Legislature. “When people are scared and hurting, when the jobs are drying up and they get angry, and a demagogue arises pointing the finger at black people and brown people — blame the other — it takes a counteroffensive not just to expose the lies but to offer people hope and a belief in the better impulses of democracy.”
His role in that “counteroffensive” isn’t clear yet.
“You don’t have to wait on elected officials, and elected officials don’t have to be president of the United States to speak to how damaging our inability to get past race has been for the country, and specifically for the South,” he said in the AP interview.