Mayor Mitch Landrieu will be honored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for his leadership in removing four Confederate-era monuments from their pedestals in New Orleans, the organization said Tuesday.
The mayor will receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on May 20, a few days after he leaves office and one year after the last targeted monument was plucked from its perch and Landrieu delivered a speech that thrust him into the national spotlight.
The foundation, which supports the Boston library and museum named for the former U.S. president, said the award honors people who have made courageous decisions of conscience, without regard for personal or professional consequences. It is named for Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage."
"In a year marked by continued racial injustice, in a moment of misguided national leadership and heightened division, Mayor Landrieu’s courage stands out brightly as an affirmative step in the right direction," said Kennedy's grandson, Jack Schlossberg, who will present Landrieu with the award.
Landrieu committed firmly to the monuments' removal after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine members of a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.
But the seeds were sown in a conversation the mayor had earlier with New Orleans-born jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who agreed to join a committee planning the city’s tricentennial celebration this year but asked Landrieu to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Landrieu said the conversation helped to open his eyes to how the Jim Crow-era statues were viewed by black people.
The conversation was briefly mentioned in a speech Landrieu gave last year that was widely praised by media outlets across the country and helped define him before a national audience. It is described in more detail in a book Landrieu released last week, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.”
The Kennedy Library Foundation praised Landrieu’s comments as a “candid reflection on the history of slavery and brutality undergirded by the monuments” and an appeal to the public’s conscience. It also noted the fierce opposition the city faced in removing the four monuments.
In a separate interview Tuesday with journalist Ron Brownstein, a senior editor of The Atlantic, Landrieu said discussions about race are the “hardest thing we ever do.”
However, “in the 21st century, we ought to be able to state really clearly in this country, that the Civil War was about destroying the United States of America for the cause of preserving slavery,” Landrieu said.
“And the Confederates were on the wrong side of history.”
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