The national controversy over the removal of Confederate monuments will take center stage when Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu sit down to discuss Landrieu’s new memoir, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History,” at the Louisville Free Public Library on Wednesday, April 3.
The meeting between Fischer and Landrieu is a part of Lean Into Louisville, a Metro-wide program that highlights conversations and presentations that explore and confront the history and legacy of discrimination and inequality.
The event will be moderated by the Rev. Dr. Alton B. Pollard III, the new president of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Pollard is a scholar, author, consultant and speaker about African-American religion and culture. His books include “Mysticism and Social Change: The Social Witness of Howard Thurman,” and he served as editor for an edition of W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Negro Church.”
Pollard told Insider the library talk is a chance for residents to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and start to heal the scars that continue to divide our city and nation.
“The importance of discussions on race, racism and its lethal accomplice called violence cannot be overstated enough,” Pollard said. “That Wednesday’s event brings together two leading mayoral figures from the southern United States makes this conversation all the more critical. Like a contagion, the monumental violence of racism continues to spread in our country.”
Landrieu’s father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978. During his tenure, the elder Landrieu was a vocal advocate for integration in the historically segregated city.
Mitch Landrieu was mayor of New Orleans himself from 2010 to 2018. “In the Shadow of Statues” recounts the events leading up to the celebrated speech he gave in May 2017 following the removal of Confederate statues honoring Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard.
The book also traces the path he took to making the decision to remove the monuments and explores his personal relationship to the broader history of slavery, race and institutional inequities that still bedevil America.
Although it was a slave state, Kentucky never joined the Confederacy as Louisiana did. However, many of the bluegrass state’s leaders where Unionists who also wanted to maintain the institution of slavery. And after the Civil War, Louisville was a magnet for ex-Confederates because it served as the headquarters of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which controlled all the intact Southern rail lines to the Deep South and was a major hub for riverboat traffic to New Orleans.
Former Confederates like Louisville Courier Journal editor Henry Watterson took control of Louisville’s social, business and political life in the years after the war.
That history has led to Louisville dealing with its own controversies over Civil War monuments. After the University of Louisville and city leaders removed a Confederate memorial from Third Street near the university’s Belknap Campus in 2016, some people decried it as a confiscation of history.
The city recently tried to remove a statue of John Breckinridge Castleman, a Confederate officer and later a U.S. Army brigadier general, from the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood. After a two-hour meeting, a Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee meeting ended in a tie vote on the application in January.
Fischer has vowed to appeal the decision to the Landmarks Commission, but supporters of keeping the Castleman statue argue that it should stay where it is because of the important role he played in the development of the city’s park system.
Pollard said he hopes the audience comes away from Wednesday’s discussion with a better understanding of how the tragedies of the past continue to influence contemporary culture.
“This is a time for serious self-examination by Americans from every walk of life,” he said. “I look forward to hearing what uncommon and uncomfortable truths Mayor Landrieu and Mayor Fischer will have to say about ‘America’s original sin,’ with just hopes for finding our way forward.”
Landrieu, Fischer and Pollard will be at LFPL’s Main Library, 301 York St., on Wednesday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m. This program is free, and no registration required. Landrieu’s book will be available for purchase.