[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio]
Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you all for joining me today.
To my lovely wife, my first lady -- couple of days, we're going to be
married 30 years.
To the City Council members; to Sergeant Kimera Woods -- that was a
beautiful rendition, didn't you think? Really nice.
Representing the men and women of the New Orleans Police Department, Homeland Security, EMS --
all of the individuals who have done really hard work over the last
month under very difficult circumstances, and so Chief Harrison and Tim McConnell,
and our entire team at City Hall who are here today; and
particularly Glenda and Mary, who are
sitting at the front desk of City Hall
that has received all the warm blessings. I think they're watching right
now but before I came over here I asked Mary how we were doing. She
said, "Well chief," she said, "they called you everything but a child of God."
To Matt Bailey and to U.S. Marine Corps retired Lieutenant
Westmoreland, who have been there every step of the way on behalf of the United
States of America. Thank you for being strong.
Pastor Anglim, and to
all the ministers who prayed and gave us
To Keith Plessy, from the Plessy family, who brings a history from
where it was to where it is today, and along with the Ferguson family
who are not here but have
demonstrated what reconciliation really looks
The descendants of
And to the
Freedom Riders --
Diane Nash couldn't make it today, but Claude Reese
is here, who was -- give him a round of applause.
I thank you all for coming today.
The soul of our beloved
city is rooted in a history that has
evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have
been here together every step of the way through good and through bad.
the history, our history, that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans
the Choctaw, the Nation, the Chitimacha;
Hernando de Soto,
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the
people of Senegambia,
free people of color, the Haitians, the Germans,
both empires of France and Spain; the Italian[s], the Irish, the
Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese, and so many
You see, New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a
bubbling cauldron of many cultures.
There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently
exemplifies the uniquely American motto:
E pluribus unum -- Out of many
we are one.
But there are also other truths about our city that we must
confront. New Orleans was one of America’s largest slave markets, a port where
hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold, and shipped up the
Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, and of
America was a place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow American citizens were
lynched, 540 in Louisiana alone; where our courts enshrined "separate
but equal," where
Freedom Riders were beaten to a
So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history,
well what I just described to you is our history as well, and it is a
And it immediately begs the question, why there are no slave ship
monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings
or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives
the pain, of sacrifice, of shame -- all of it happening on the soil of
So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they
are eerily silent on what amounts to historical malfeasance, a lie
There is a difference, you see, between remembrance of history and the reverence of
it. For America [and] New Orleans, it has been a long and winding road,
marked by tragedy and triumph. But we cannot be afraid of
As President George W. Bush
said at the -- at the dedication ceremony for the
National Museum of African American History and Culture
(and I quote): “A great nation
does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and" it "corrects them.”
So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four
monuments to the
Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why
this process can move us towards healing and understanding each
So, let’s start with the facts.
The historic record is clear:
Robert E. Lee,
P.G.T. Beauregard statu[es] were not erected
to just honor these men, but
as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost
Cause. This "cult" had one goal and one goal only: through monuments and through other
means to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that
Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.
First erected 166 years after the founding of our city, 19 years
after the Civil War, these monuments that we took down were
meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of the
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of
America; they fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in
this cause they were not patriots.
These statu[es] are not just stone and metal. They're not just innocent
remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate
a fictional, sanitized Confederacy: ignoring the death, ignoring the
enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for. And after
the Civil War, these monuments were part of that terrorism as much
as burning cross on someone’s lawn. They were erected purposefully to
send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was
still in charge in this city.
Now, should you have any doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy,
in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the
Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it very clear that the Confederate
cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy.
In his now famous "Cornerstone speech,"
he said that the Confederacy’s:
corner-stone rests, upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to
the white man; that slavery -- subordination to a superior race
his natural and his normal condition. This, our new government --
-- is the
first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical,
philosophical, and moral truth.
Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try
to gently peel your hands from the grip on this false narrative of our
history that I think weakens us and make straight a wrong turn that we made
many years ago, so we can more closely connect with the integrity to the
founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer, straighter
path towards a better city and towards a more perfect union.
Now, last year
President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need
to contextualize and to remember all of our history. He recalled a
single piece of
stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a
single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke
President Obama said,
Consider what this artifact tells us about
history....On a stone where day after day, for years, men and women...
bound and bought and sold, and bid like cattle; on a stone worn down by
the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet.
For a long time the only thing
we considered important, the singular thing we chose to commemorate
as "history" with a plaque were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful
A piece of stone -- one stone. Both stories, history. One story told,
one story forgotten -- or maybe even purposefully ignored.
Now, as clear as it is for me today, for a long time, even though I grew
up in one of New Orleans' most diverse neighborhoods, even with my
family's proud history of fighting for civil rights, I must have passed
by these monuments thousands of times without giving them a second
So I'm not judging anybody. I am not judging people. We all take our
own journey on race. I just hope people listen like I did when my dear
Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think
about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our
Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the
perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to
their fifth grade daughter why Robert E. Lee sat atop
of our city. Can you do it? Can you do it?
Can you look into the eyes of this young girl and convince her that Robert E.
Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she feels inspired and
hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see her future with
limitless potential? Have you ever thought, have you every thought that if her potential is
limited, yours and my potential [is limited] as well?
We all know the answers to these very simple questions.
When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing
truth comes into focus. This is the moment when we know what we must do,
when we know what is right. We can not walk away from this truth.
Now, I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you
elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what
that looks like. So relocating these monuments is not about
taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics.
It's not about blame. It's not about retaliation. This is not about a naïve quest to
solve all of our problems at once.
This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city, that
a people are able to acknowledge, to understand, to reconcile, and more
importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what
has been crooked and making right what was wrong.
Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division,
and yeah, violence.
To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our mo[st] prominent
places [of] honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an
affront to our present. And it is a bad prescription for our future.
History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is
done is done. The Civil War is over. The Confederacy lost -- and we're
better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to
acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.
And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans
-- or anyone else for that matter -- to drive by property that they own; occupied by
reverential statu[es] of men who fought to destroy the country and deny
that person’s humanity seems perverse. It seems absurd.
Century-old wounds are still raw because, you see, they never healed right in
the first place.
So here is the essential truth: We are better together than we are
apart. Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that
people of New Orleans, have given to the world?
We radiate beauty and grace -- in our food, in our music, in our
architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in
everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz.
the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages
from different cultures.
second lines; think about
Mardi Gras; think about
think about the Saints; think about gumbo; think about red beans and rice. By God, just
think: All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot
creating, producing something better; everything, everything a product of our
We are proof that out of many we are one -- and better for it. Out of
many we are one -- and we really do love it.
And yet, and yet we still seem to find so many excuses to not do the right
thing. President Bush’s words once again: “A great nation does not
hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we
really need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing
noble causes that marinate in historic denial. We still find a way to
say “wait, wait, wait, not so fast.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “wait has almost always meant
We can not wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.
No more waiting. This is not just about statu[es], this is about
attitudes; and it's about behaviors as well. If we take down these statu[es] and don’t
change to become a more open and inclusive society, then all of this would have all
been in vain.
While some have driven by these statu[es] every day and either revered
their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and
our fellow Americans see them very, very clearly. Many are painfully aware of their
long shadows, their presence cast not only literally but
figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy
and the cult of the Lost Cause intended to deliver.
Earlier this week, as the cult of the Lost Cause statu[e] P.G.T
Beauregard came down, world renowned musician
Terence Blanchard, who's with us, stood
watch with his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side.
Terence went to school on the edge of City Park, at a school named after one
of America’s great heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get
there he had to pass by the monument to a man who fought to deny his humanity.
he said (quote):
I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride.
made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect
us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a
sign that the world is changing.
Yes, Terence, it is, and it is long overdue.
Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New
Orleanians, a message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond:
not miss this opportunity New Orleans and let us help the rest of the
America do the same, because now -- see, now -- is the time for choosing. Now is the
time to actually make this city the city we should have always been had we
gotten it right the first time.
But, this is a good place to stop for a moment and ask ourselves at this point in our
history -- after
Gustav, after the
national recession, after the BP oil spill catastrophe, after
-- if presented with an opportunity to build monuments that told our
story or curate these particular spaces … would these be the monuments
that we want the world to see? Is this really our story?
You see, we have not erased history. We're becoming part of the city’s history
by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a
better, more complete future for all of our children, and for future
And unlike when these Confederate monuments were erected as
symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new
symbols, but to do it together, as one people.
In our blessed land, we come to the table of democracy as equals.
We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is
guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit
That is what really makes America great and today it's more important
than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident
truth that out of many we are one. That is why we reclaim these
spaces for the United States of America, because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice
for all, not some. We all are part of one nation and pledge
allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America.
here -- And here's the kicker: New Orleanians are in it all of the way.
It is in this union, it is in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and
Instead of revering a four-year brief historical aberration that was called
the Confederacy, we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse
history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300
After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation,
of humiliation and of frustration; after public hearings and approvals
from three separate community boards and commissions; after two robust public
hearings and a 6-1 vote by our duly-elected City
Council; after review by 13 different federal and state judges: The full
weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of
government has been brought to bear and that is why these monuments are
coming down in accordance with
the law and will be removed.
So, now is the time to come together to heal and to focus on our larger
task -- not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful
manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.
And so, let us remember the once-exiled, imprisoned, and universally
loved now Nelson Mandela and
what he said after apartheid:
the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all
of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common
understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of th[e] nation’s
So before we part let us again state clearly for all to hear:
The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought
to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery.
This is a history we should never forget and one that we should never,
again put on a pedestal to be revered.
As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New
Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is
time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our
history. Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle
and soul-searching a truly lost cause.
Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest
President, Abraham Lincoln, who, with an open heart and a clarity of purpose,
calls on us today across the ages to unite as one people
when he said:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in
right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the
work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds...to do all which may
achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with
God bless you all.
God bless New Orleans.
And God bless the United States of America.