Race in America: The Historical Monuments Debate
MR. CAPEHART: Good afternoon. I’m Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post, and welcome to Washington Post Live. You are in for a fun and provocative conversation on race with two outspoken men I’ve interviewed on this subject before.
Mitch Landrieu was the 51st lieutenant governor of Louisiana, the 61st mayor of New Orleans, and is the founder of E Pluribus Unum, an organization that is bringing people together across the South around matters of race, equity, opportunity, and violence.
Wynton Marsalis and his trumpet are world renowned. Among his awards and accolades are nine Grammys, and the Pulitzer Prize for music, which was a first for jazz.
Mitch and Wynton, welcome to Washington Post Live. It’s great to see you both.
MR. MARSALIS: It’s great to be seen. I didn’t know Mitch was going to be knotted up.
MR. LANDRIEU: Oh man. I thought you were going to be dressed up so I didn’t want to be behind you, so I thought I’d get in front of you.
MR. MARSALIS: But I think both of y’all look clean. Man, I feel, you know, I’m underdressed.
MR. LANDRIEU: You look good.
MR. MARSALIS: But I’m happy to be here.
MR. LANDRIEU: You look good, Wynton.
MR. CAPEHART: You’re all right. You’re a genius so—
MR. LANDRIEU: Wynton, I’m so happy to see you. I wish I could reach over there and hug you and kiss you—
MR. MARSALIS: Yeah, man.
MR. LANDRIEU: —if we were together, but COVID wouldn’t let us do that.
MR. MARSALIS: Right. We’ve got to share one of Hansen’s snoballs.
MR. CAPEHART: All right, you two. I’m taking control back of this conversation, so we can talk about this. The nation right now is in the middle of a conversation on race, and it has spun from racial justice to equity and opportunity, but also into the removal of Confederate statues. And Mitch, you were in the middle of it there in New Orleans a few years back.
When I interviewed Wynton a couple years ago, 2018, in New York, I asked him about this, because it was Wynton who sort of lit the fire in you to do something about this. And here’s what Wynton said when I asked him if you reached out to him because he was a native son or did he reach out to you.
And here’s what Wynton said to me. Quote, “It’s just really two middle-aged people who played trumpet in high school, who have known each other for years, sitting down, having breakfast, talking. I was going out of town. He was talking about the tricentennial. I didn’t set out to talk with him about those statues,” and yet you eventually did.
So I’m going to start with you, Wynton, to talk further about why you felt it was important at that breakfast, talking with your middle-aged friend, that you played trumpet with in high school, why it was important to you to talk about the Confederate statutes in New Orleans.
MR. MARSALIS: We talked about a lot of subjects. We talked about crime in the community. He was saying he had to go visit parents, and he was tired of going to see teenagers and young people who had been killed by violence, celebration of violence. He talked about the black Mardi Gras that used to be held on Claiborne Avenue, and the city ran a causeway through it so that the black people couldn’t gather, and that he was trying to get it removed and reinstate it and there were some people in the black community didn’t remember when the causeway was there.
And then we started talking about the tricentennial, and we talked about that. We talked about a lot of subjects—our families, things that we wanted to do, and that was one of those issues.
MR. CAPEHART: But you zeroed in on the Robert E. Lee statue. What was it about this statue that was particularly bothersome?
MR. MARSALIS: They lost. It’s very clear. You know, my great-uncle was born in 1883. He didn’t like the statue. He made me aware of the symbolism of it. It’s not something I would’ve necessarily paid attention to. It’s not like we sat around in the neighborhood talking about Robert E. Lee statue.
But from a symbolic standpoint, you know, is England getting ready to put up a statue to George Washington? They lost the war. They fought a war to maintain a way of life that was not maintained, and there’s no reason to give back victories that were not earned on the battlefield. If anything, it’s disrespectful to their fight. And—
MR. CAPEHART: And then—yeah, go ahead. Sorry, Wynton.
MR. MARSALIS: No, I just think Mitch—one thing I’m going to say is he said he didn’t know whose jurisdiction it was. He said he was going to check on it. He came back. He called me. He said, “You know what? Damn if this thing is not in my jurisdiction,” and he said he would act on it, and he did.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, this is a good opportunity for you, Mitch, to jump in. So, from your perspective, that breakfast with Wynton, how did that push you to take action?
MR. LANDRIEU: Well, you know, sometimes when you’re trying to get things done, and you’re trying to figure things out, nothing really fits. And then somebody puts a piece of the puzzle in your mind and then things start to take shape. And when Wynton said that to me, I had already, you know, worked for 30 years as a state legislator, as a lieutenant governor. We created the first African American Heritage Trail. This wasn’t, you know, my first foray into it. In 1960, my daddy was one of only two legislators that voted against the segregation package. And there are lots of stories about being in the middle of a fight for racial equality and racial justice.
But when Wynton told me about those monuments it made me kind of feel stupid, because I’d walked by those monuments all the time and I never really understood or was aware enough to know how they fit into the larger message of racial inequality and white supremacy. And when he did that, you know, I describe it like him hitting me in the head with a bat. He was nice, but that’s what it felt like.
And, of course, my initial reaction was, oh, I’m not doing it. That’s not my stuff. And then I found out that it was my stuff, and then I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, look, if you have power, if you have agency, what are you going to do with your power and your agency? Are you going to do it to make things better or are you just going to walk by it and let it be how it is? And letting it be how it is, is not an alternative anymore.
And so those monuments, as important as they are to get them down, they are symbols, they are stone and metal, but what they represent is much more insidious than the physicality of them. They represent a notion, an idea, that somehow white people are superior to black people, and it forces African Americans who walk by them every day and feel less than.
So, when Wynton told me, he forgets the next thing he said to me, which was really impactful. He said, “Man, Louis Armstrong left because of those statues.” And when he said that I had just gotten finished, you know, or was thinking about the Great Migration, a book that Isabel Wilkerson wrote, The Warmth of Other Suns, which is one of the great books —
MR. MARSALIS: Classic book.
MR. LANDRIEU: —in the history of the country that talked about how much the South lost because people like Louis Armstrong left. And if you go read that book and you think about all the human beings, the great intellectual capital, the raw material, just the genius that left the South and went someplace else, I’m sitting here trying to rebuild the city with everybody else, thinking, man, how are we going to do this without the best and the brightest here?
So, it occurred to me, as we were preparing for our 300th anniversary, and we were rebuilding the city, what I kept telling the people of the city is “We’re not going to put it back like it was. We’re going to put it back the way it should have been, if we would’ve gotten it right the first time.” And I was talking that talk. And when Wynton told me what he told me, I said, man, wow. Well, if I want to walk the walk, this is part of what has to happen, but it’s only the first part.
And by the way, we were in the middle of reforming the police department at that time, under consent decree. We were in the process of downsizing the jail. We were doing all kinds of other substantive stuff. And if the city wants to live with integrity, in all of its beauty and all of its history and all of its texture, those monuments were essentially just a big fat lie and an ugly red thumb right in the middle of this beautiful city that we were trying to recreate and get right, because we had gotten some of it wrong to begin with.
So it all just kind of smacked me in the head and I was like, look, you know, you can walk away from this but you would be a sorry son of a gun if you did, and you wouldn’t be able to explain it to your grandkids, so go do something about it.
MR. CAPEHART: Wynton, were you surprised that Mitch actually followed through on what you’d said and what you suggested?
MR. MARSALIS: Yeah, I was surprised when he called me. I mean, I was surprised. Because it wasn’t—it was part of the conversation we had, the more serious part of the conversation where it was just about violence in general, violent images in our culture. So yeah, I was surprised. He said, “The only thing I want you to do is write an article.” I mean, he had to take all the heat for it. He had to deal with all the politics of it.
You know, I liked how you referenced his experience already and also his father. My father loved his father too, and the black people in New Orleans loved his father, when we didn’t really like politicians. And I always try to make the point that I was always outspoken about this stuff. In the ’70s I was like that. I was never—so the conversation me and him had, I don’t want to mischaracterize it, because sometimes you get in public or you start to talk and your actual natural, personal relationship and the way you actually are gets covered by the fact that you’re—we weren’t anywhere outside of our personalities. You know, we talk about things.
And so, yeah, he shocked me, and he did what he said he would do.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, I can’t remember if Mitch—I think it was Wynton who just said that you took all the heat, and you did take a lot of heat for removing those statues. Can you talk about the opposition that you faced in New Orleans as a result of doing the right thing?
MR. LANDRIEU: Yes, I will. First of all, I didn’t do it by myself. There have been many people, for many, many years, who are unnamed and unknown, who marched in the streets of New Orleans. I remember Lolis Elie, Rudy Lombard, Oretha Castle Haley, our first Mayor Morial, the second Mayor Morial, Sidney Barthelemy, a whole group of people—
MR. MARSALIS: He’s key roll-calling great people. That’s our people, like Bob Dylan, he’s talking about.
MR. LANDRIEU: And Avery Alexander, who got dragged down the steps, Reverend Marie Galatas. There was a group called Take ‘Em Down NOLA that swarmed the streets. Everybody helped. It was a group effort.
However, it was not easy. It was hard. And, you know, the thing that bothers me is that it was much harder to do this than it should have been. This should have been—this is an easy thing to do, actually. If you look at where we are in this country and you go back and ask who were we, who did we say we are, should we act a certain way, those monuments have no place on public spaces in places of reverences.
They, in fact, are monuments to something called “the lost cause.” They were put up intentionally, after the Civil War ended, as statues of reverence. Statues of reverence are the kinds of things you want kids to emulate. That’s the point of putting them up. You want kids to emulate them. So, what did they symbolize? They symbolized, through the voice of Jefferson Davis and his vice president, white supremacy.
Now these monuments were put up to revere people who tried to destroy the United States of America, for the cause of preserving slavery. That one statement freaks people out still sometimes, and people won’t just acknowledge that. And the African American community and many other people get upset that people won’t just acknowledge the simplest thing and why that was so wrong. Thank God they lost the war. Can you imagine had they won the war, where we would be right now, and what would be happening in the country?
And so to me, this whole argument about Confederate monuments is done. I mean, history has written its story about it. We need to get past that and get into the Black Lives Matter moment and what it is that the country needs to learn about full participation by African Americans at the table of democracy, as equals in the United States of America, and think about what that means in our education system, our transportation system, arts, culture, and music, in the way cities are run.
Just yesterday, the Louisiana Supreme Court, our Supreme Court in New Orleans, six white justices, one black justice, upheld the sentence—a life sentence of an individual who stole a really very small thing, like a hanger or a flashlight or something. It just came across yesterday. There are institutional laws that are biased that produce inapposite results. That’s what has to change. And these monuments are just a reflection of that attitude that has allowed that institutional bias, that we walk by every day. It’s perfectly symbolic of walking by institutional racism every day and not understanding it, and saying to yourself, “Well, I’m not a racist because I didn’t want that statue up for that reason. The only reason I like it is because my daddy took me there to watch a Mardi Gras parade, and that’s all I remember about it.”
But now I say, “Well, now that you know who put it up, now that you know why they put it up, now that you know that young African Americans walk by every day and felt less than, now what are you going to do?”
That is the question about institutional bias and racism that we have to understand in our country and we have to commit to do something about it.
MR. MARSALIS: Can I just say one thing? One thing I want to say is let’s, for a minute, contemplate what it feels like to a young white person. A loser has a statute in the middle of your city. They lost. That’s what I think about this, that you lost a war and I disrespect your dead by giving you a place like a winner. Man, it’s almost comical.
So, you know, the stupidity of the arguments around it, and all this around heritage, hey, it was a good try. Y’all lost. Let’s roll the page on that.
And in terms of the symbolism, I’m not a big statue person, in general, any kind of statues, to be honest with you. But the fact that all the productive that we have done together, and we could do, just hearing Mitch give the roll call of Lolis Elie, Rudy Lombard—that’s people older than us, you know. That’s a roll call of people who were fighting as warriors. They were out fighting for social justice and for equality, not just for black people but for white and black people.
We have a mutual cause. We have a mutual heritage. We have a familiar mutuality. And if we overlook all of that to keep enforcing the kind of fake white-black system—and it’s killing us. Look at Republican-Democrat. Look at all the splinter groups we have. Now everybody is fighting for agency in their corner. We don’t have to agree on everything but we don’t need to be celebrating people who lost in a sad cause. No, they don’t deserve a statue. Pull those statues down.
MR. LANDRIEU: And it takes up—if you think about it, it takes up a very limited amount of space, and if we started over—let’s just say we were starting from scratch, and we said, look, we’re going to have 700 spaces in the country, and in those spaces we want to put something that reflects who we are, collectively, in a deep, rich way. Do you think we’d get to those 700? You wouldn’t get anywhere close to it. You’d be thinking about Mahalia Jackson. I’m going to get in Wynton’s lane with music. You’d be thinking about Louis Armstrong, right?
MR. MARSALIS: Louis Armstrong. Jelly Roll.
MR. LANDRIEU: You’d be thinking about Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton. You’d be thinking about—where are all the women? I mean, think about it. All of these guys.
So what I’m saying is, when people, when these guys who are historians say people like me are stealing their history, what I’m saying to them is, if you were responsible for curating our history, you are guilty of historic malfeasance, because you left everybody else the hell out. And you only included a couple of people in four years of our time. We are 300 years old. What happened to the rest of it? We are all different kinds of colors and textures, and deep. It’s a mosaic. That’s who we are, and especially from New Orleans, where we believe in, you know, music and food represent life and government, like jazz represents democracy. Wynton can give you that riff, because it’s right. Food, the gumbo is the same thing.
And the thing is, out of many we are one. E Pluribus Unum. That means everything goes in the pot. We all put in, we all take out, and we’re the better for it. That’s the idea, and those monuments don’t reflect that. They do the exact opposite. They’re the “get the hell out of here,” you know, message, is what that is, and that’s not right.
MR. CAPEHART: Right. You know, Mitch, you did this in 2017, came down with the decision. It was a two-year legal process, and you systematically went through—it was the executive, the legislative, judicial—you had support from all three of those branches for the removal of those statues. But what we’re seeing now—I’d really like to get your thoughts, and then Wynton’s, as well—what we’re seeing now are protesters forcibly removing statues of Confederates and others who and are—were and are on the wrong side of history. What do you make of that?
MR. LANDRIEU: Well, I have a lot of thoughts about it. Actually, it was a three-and-a-half-year process. I actually thought about it a year before I actually took any action. From the day that Wynton, you know, smacked me in the head and I started thinking about it and tried to get out of it and didn’t want to do it, and then figured out that it was my responsibility and then figuring out exactly how to do it, the thing that made me move was the awful murders that took place at the hands of Dylann Roof. And I was just like, okay, you know what? We’re not talking about this anymore. This has got to happen.
And when they took down the flag in South Carolina—and by the way, in New Orleans, my dad and some folks took that flag down in 1967. I couldn’t make any intellectual distinction between the flag and the monuments, and that’s the thing that kind of made me jump up and say now is the time to go. It was the moment to make it happen.
But I thought that it was important, and I still think it’s important for the country to make itself go through—not over, not under, not around, but through the issue of race, which means we have to talk to each other about it. So, the public process was important to me. We had four public hearings. People then exercised their right to take us to court, which they did. There were 7 courts, 13 judges. They then made an appeal to the president. So, we went through all three branches of government, all levels of the government, and the democratic process produced the result that we have.
Now I’m fully appreciative and understanding of how people are impatient and they want to tear monuments down. I don’t want to countenance its violence, it’s against the law. I think it’s really important that we, as a country, go through a very aggressive and intentional process of truth and reconciliation. But it also means that people of good will have got to acknowledge what was done wrong and make a commitment to change. When you don’t do that, protest, you know, is naturally going to come, and people are going to take things into their own hands. I understand it.
I wish we could do it through the legal process because I think at the end of the day, we’ll be better for it. But it takes longer, it’s harder, and it’s much more frustrating.
MR. CAPEHART: I should tell folks that you write all about your experience of removing those statues in your book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.”
Wynton, from your perspective, I mean, through your musical compositions you have been addressing issues of race and inequality and justice. What do you make of protesters forcibly tearing down statues and not doing it in the way that Mitch did it?
MR. MARSALIS: Well, I think that if you take just what Mitch said, that Dylann Roof went into a church and started shooting people, he’s an extremist so he went to an extreme degree to make his point. If you go back to the girls who were killed in Alabama, and the changes that that created in the country, many times extremist acts bring about change.
So whereas I’m not an advocate of breaking the law, I avoid breaking the law myself, I think that when you have protests—and it’s like another point that he made is that at a certain point you protest, you stay within the law, you do things legal, you try to do us right, hey, they law is going to send that man that Mitch was talking about, his life is over now, for taking a spoon out of a restaurant or for having some weed in his pocket.
So I’m not going to say I’m an advocate for some violence, but something about it makes a protest for real when there’s not, I’m going to tell you when to protest, what time you’re going to do it, and I’m going to set out all the parameters for you, and then you can go home.
So, you know, do protests go too far? Do people take things too far? Yeah, they go too far, but that’s how we get to change.
MR. LANDRIEU: Right, and Jonathan, on that, you know, there’s a big argument we’re having in this country about who’s a patriot and who’s a traitor.
MR. LANDRIEU: You know, so I’ll throw a little history on you, but, you know, when Muhammad Ali, when Cassius Clay decided not to fight for America, we hated on him for a long time. And then when he changed his name to Muhammad Ali we were like, man, you’ve got to be kidding me. Now everybody in the world thinks he’s one of the greatest men that ever lived.
Dr. King, the last year of his life, according to the friends who were with him most of the time, said he was despondent, and he was not revered when he was alive and now he’s somebody that we love.
Colin Kaepernick took a knee. He didn’t turn his back on the United States of America. He took a knee. He wasn’t trying to hate on America. He was trying to call America into a greater life of integrity, about being who you are and saying what you are. Many of these protesters are doing the same thing.
So protesting is covered by the First Amendment. It’s the First Amendment, because the Founding Fathers knew that the only way for this democracy to survive was to be able to criticize your government. Those protesters are patriots. They’re not traitors. The traitors are the guys that are up on the monuments, who try to fight a war to destroy the United States of America for the cause of preserving slavery, which is anathema to the very idea of America, which is very simply stated, which is that we all come to the table of democracy as equals.
Now we all know when the country was born, we were born into a moment of hypocrisy. Slavery was our original sin. Racism continues to be our Achilles heel. And for some reason, man, we are hostile to looking at ourselves and seeing that very fact, admitting that we were wrong, as a country. You don’t have to be at fault for that in order to be responsible for fixing it.
So, we now know that we’re hurting ourselves and we’re hurting each other, so let’s just get on with it. As Wynton said, y’all lost. Nice try. It’s time to move on and get a whole lot better, and let everybody in.
MR. CAPEHART: Okay. Go ahead, Wynton, and then I have a follow-up to what you just said, Mitch.
MR. MARSALIS: No—I just—you can’t—freedom is not something that—I can’t—we are searching for a balance. When you’re sanctioning violent force, you are sanctioning them to commit acts of violence. When your sanctioned violent force decides it is going to prey on the community, and then they are compared to crimes you have in the community. I hear it all the time. Black people are killing black people. The people who are killing other people are criminals. They’re not police. There’s a difference between a sanctioned violence—a good friend of mine is a police officer, retired, in Chicago. I went to their ceremony for his son becoming a policeman. The oath that they take is so heavy, of the constraints on their use of force, that when you sit and hear that oath and how heavy it is, and you think this oath is being violated, it’s not the same as what citizens are doing.
So yeah, I’m going with what Mitch is saying in terms of just we are a country that has a relationship to periods of upheaval, and then we go back to what we’ve been doing. We need to change our basic cultural mythology. And we are going through the process of doing it, and it’s going to be painful, and it needs to be painful, and it’s not something that can be controlled.
And the same court systems that are corrupt and stuff, I mean, Muhammad Ali, we loved him when we were growing up, but I have to say that we did not like Dr. King, because on the street level we felt like Dr. King was too conciliatory, and we were more about Malcolm X’s approach, which was more of a Hollywood approach. You know, it was more like we’re going to do this, and we’ll get guns and all of that. Okay, they never got any guns or did anything. It was something more for a movie. Dr. King was the tactician, and he put a coalition together. But for a kid of 9 or 10 or 11, at that time, you didn’t understand the sophistication of it. It goes back to what Mitch was saying about when his father and them took the flag down. At that time, he didn’t know what was going on.
But now, you know, we’re grown. We have the ability to form coalitions and to create meaningful change in our country, and that’s what we need to do, that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’ve been working on for a long time. And now is a good time to kick that can further down the road and try to keep it down the road so that we don’t have the same thing that happened in the 1980s happen in the upcoming years.
MR. CAPEHART: Well I want to take on that phrase you just mentioned, Wynton, the “cultural mythology” that the country has to take on. And one of those things is while folks are focused on tearing down the losers in the Civil War, tearing down those Confederate statues, there are others who are agitating and pushing for the removal of other statutes—of George Washington, of Thomas Jefferson, and others among the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, who were on the wrong side of that part of our American history.
Where do you fall on that issue? Should those statues be removed?
MR. MARSALIS: My feeling is this. If an attacker grabs you, they teach you to grab their thumb, pull their thumb off. Now I’m trying to get a thumb off and now you’re reaching for the whole hand. Okay?
Let’s—I don’t want to—it’s like chew what’s in your mouth. It doesn’t mean there aren’t always going to be people who will go to another level and another level. Well, you can’t dismantle the country because the country was born in slavery. That’s what it is. Are you going to kill yourself for something that’s wrong with you? Your mythology, you have to determine what it is. That’s something that’s up for debate.
But I want to say one thing about what happens in the media. The media is always looking for the most extreme viewpoint. Like if we were on this call now and Mitch and I started to call each other names and all of you and fight, and I called him up, man, that would go viral in a second.
MR. LANDRIEU: We have boxing matches.
MR. MARSALIS: Okay, we’ve had arguments. We talk. We get heated and we talk about stuff with a lot of passion. If we were to do that same thing we naturally would do, and get up from a table and hug each other after really arguing about an issue that we both feel serious about, man, that would be, “Man, you see what those two dudes, before they got into this and that? This game was for real with Mitch. Man, he was something.” “No, he was telling them—.”
You know, let’s get to something. Let’s get these statutes down. And then when we get these statues down, then let’s talk about that. But instead of me being able to get this statue down now, I’m now talking about should George Washington, should Thomas Jefferson, should Abraham Lincoln’s statue, Frederick Douglass be a—no, don’t give me I’m needing some gumbo, man. Don’t bring turkey and chicken and beans and rice and all that.
MR. LANDRIEU: It’s all about food in New Orleans. It’s all about food.
MR. LANDRIEU: But wait. Let me see if I can make these two points quickly. Back to the process. So, you know, back in the day, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X had had enough of Dr. King and John Lewis and other folks, and it was all about, by any means necessary versus nonviolence. That conflict has been with us forever. It’s not going to get resolved. You have to be balanced and patient. At the end of the day, you know, you’ve got to have the energy to get it done.
I completely and totally understand folks who are saying, “Man, we’ve been trying to do this the right way and nobody will listen to us. There is no redress and grievances so we have to take things into our own hands.” My sense—my preference would be to do it the legal and thoughtful way. But, you know, the question rises, what if injustice just won’t be moved because people refuse to do it? What do you do then?
And that’s what democracy is supposed to be about, which gets you into a whole bunch of other issues about gerrymandering and legislatures, and do the people in Congress really represent the people that are electing us. Those are things that we have to think through.
But on the issue of race, it is going to hurt us, because it’s painful to acknowledge things that are hurtful from your past and to recognize that either you participated in it, you benefitted from it. It’s like getting in a fight with your brother. Like if I was over at Wynton’s house and we got in a fight, and his mom would make us say we were sorry to each other, that’s hard to do. And then say, “I forgive you.” That’s hard as hell, especially for two young kids. But if you can imagine doing it across history, I mean, the pain that we have to go through. But that’s what’s necessary. So that’s number one.
Number two, I would just caution—and I completely agree with Wynton—don’t let them take your eye off the ball. When I started taking these monuments down, all the people that didn’t want me to do it, the first thing they said was, “Oh, man, you can’t do that. Where is it going to end? Where is it going to end?” Like I had to answer every question in the world about every monument that had ever been put up. And I said, “You know what? I don’t know where it’s going to end. I know where it’s going to start. It’s going to start right here, with these four.”
Because I had people on both sides mad at me because I didn’t do enough, and then people said I did too much. But you know what? We took down four, and then all of a sudden, over time, other people started thinking.
So, I would say—because these monuments are not just stone and metal—I want to get these monuments down, and then I want to attack the idea that allowed them to go up and allowed them to stand, and then get that done.
Now if other people want to talk about Washington and Jefferson, there’s a deeper conversation that’s rich, it’s worthy, it’s one to start having, but don’t let it get in the way of this very specific thing. You have 700 monuments, they ought to come down, and then we need to start redesigning the institutions of America to get rid of the idea that allowed those monuments to go up and allowed habitual offenders to get passed, and allowed mass incarceration, and allowed the kind of behavior that we see from some police officers.
Now Wynton alluded to this. I was a mayor. I had to go funerals of police officers that were killed in the line of duty and talk to their spouses when they died. I also had to go to the emergency room and to funerals of young men who were killed. Both of them. At the end of the day, both of them were dead. Their lives and their families’ lives. It’s critically important that we get back into really understanding that humanity belongs to us all. And you can’t—Black Lives Matter. And when white people say, “Well, all lives matter,” the only answer is, “Well, all lives can’t matter if black lives don’t matter.”
And I think it just should be really clear in the country right now that we have devalued African Americans. I can take you through a half-hour history lesson of all of the institutional barriers that were in place that made it much, much harder, clearly, for African Americans than for anybody else. We need to rectify that, not just because it’s the moral and just thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s better for the country.
And these monuments represent a view towards the past. That’s why they need to come down, so we can clear out space and create a vision towards the future, and put something in those spaces that lifts us up and not breaks us down, that unites us, not divides us. That’s the bigger point than whether or not you’re going to take down a piece of metal.
MR. CAPEHART: What you just said there, Mitch, is one of the reasons why a lot of people were hoping you would run for president. A white Southerner talking about race in the matter-of-fact, honest, blunt way that you do is something that sort of washes over people in a hopeful way, that there’s someone who gets it and who can, you know, shepherd us through this very difficult thing in our history that has haunted us from our founding.
Wynton, I know you wanted to jump in. I’m going to give you the last word. What’s your last thought?
MR. MARSALIS: Well, I mean, I agree with what Mitch is saying on that. I think that, yeah, you know, as a brother you get messed with a lot, and a lot of times I could tell you when I was growing up I thought, man, my guys, they’re not going to make it through this gauntlet that’s put in front of them. And a lot of them didn’t. You have a gauntlet, and it’s on the left and the right. It’s not just the right. You get that from everywhere, the intellectual community.
And I want to finally just conclude by saying that one thing that Mitch brings to stuff is that he’s also cultural. He knows the music, he’s in theater, you know, minored theater, and we don’t have that type of cultural consciousness in our political community and it’s really sad, because we are a variegated nation but we do have a common culture that we’ve never focused and concentrated on, so it’s given us a kind of spiritual hold in our center. It is just a battleground for us, and we need to figure out how to come together and be for real with redressing, the grievances of the past, by taking the best of what we achieve and moving forward to the future with force and with power.
So, I’m honored to be here and talk with Mitch and Jonathan. Thanks.
MR. CAPEHART: Wynton Marsalis, thank you very much for being here. And you mentioned your father earlier on, the great, legendary, Ellis Marsalis, who also passed away earlier this spring, so I wanted to send you my condolences on the passing of your father, but also for jazz, because he was indeed a giant.
And Mitch Landrieu, Mayor Landrieu, thank you very much for being here, for being on Washington Post Live today.
MR. LANDRIEU: Thank you. Thank you, Jonathan. Wynton, thank you. I love you. I’ll see you soon.
MR. MARSALIS: Yeah, man. Love and respect. Next time I’ll be ready for you.
MR. CAPEHART: All right. Next week we have a full lineup of conversations on topics that range from America’s health future to the impact of COVID-19 on schools and food systems. On Monday, we’ll continue our series on race in America with the former mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, and on Tuesday, March For Our Lives founder and student activist, David Hogg, will join the program. Check it all out on WashingtonPostLive.com.
I’m Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post. Thanks for tuning in.
Source: Washington Post