When I saw the story on the burned car,
I realized we were facing an opposition that went far beyond historic preservationists to a burning fringe of people bent on criminal behavior.
AS TENSION BUILT, a thought kept gnawing at me of how badly we had been taught about the Civil War,
how little about slavery or Reconstruction or Jim Crow.
Also how the ingrained racial attitudes I encountered in youth and through adulthood
in a city with such a wonderful mix of humanity reflected in the music and cuisine, the balls and parades,
nevertheless had a cold, dark underside—and it’s not just New Orleans.
You can drive 50 miles from here and find people in rural towns
who feel emotionally invested in our Robert E. Lee statue as an idea of the Civil War—what the South was.
Drive a few hundred more miles to the outer edges of the South
and you can find white people who think “the South” is misunderstood,
that the heritage of their ancestors, or the idea of an honorable war, as taught in schools and passed through family tradition, supersedes why that war was fought.
How else do we explain the blanket of hostility toward black people that shrouds the voting patterns of the white South?
Think about the Southern strategy of the Republican Party as fomented by Nixon, carried on by Reagan and now re-enacted with President Donald Trump.
Even with large black populations,
no Southern state has a voting black majority,
and every Southern state is schizophrenically split on voting lines of race, Louisiana high among them.
Race is the great dividing wedge used by what was once the party of Lincoln to attract workingclass whites and country-club conservatives
who share few economic interests but are united against the interests of African Americans.
Here is what I have learned about race:
You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.
When we testify in court, we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
This is important, because anything but the whole truth and nothing but the truth will lead us astray.
Yet that is the story of American history that most of us know, particularly as it relates to race.
To move forward, we must commit to tell the whole truth about our past.
To move forward, we must find that new space on race here,
a zone of belief that holds promise for a nation committed to justice for all of our people, making right what we have failed to do and insisting that we will do what it takes to reach the next threshold for humankind.