BOSTON (CN) – New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in May for his removal of four Confederate statues that were formerly prominently placed around the city, the Kennedy Library Foundation announced Tuesday.
Landrieu, 57, called for removal of the Confederate memorials in the city following the June 2015 shooting deaths of nine people, and the injury to three others, at the hands of white supremacist, Dylann Roof, in an historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The fight over removal of the four monuments resulted in several court battles over two years, but Landrieu’s administration ultimately prevailed, and by spring of 2017 the monuments were removed.
They included the Liberty Place monument, an obelisk that was put up in 1891 to commemorate the 1874 “Battle of Liberty Place” during which the Democratic White League attempted to take control of the Louisiana government and which subsequently became a rallying place for white supremacists; a 60-foot-tall marble column and statue dedicated to Gen. Robert E. Lee; a large statue of Louisiana-born Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback; and a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
“The decision to remove these statues was made after a lengthy public process that determined these statues failed to appropriately reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today,” the city said in a statement released upon the removal of the first monument.
“In each case, the statues were erected decades at the Civil War was over as part of the ‘Cult of the Lost Cause,’ and to demonstrate that there was no sense of guilt for the cause in which the South fought the Civil War.” The statement added: ‘Despite a prominent statue of him placed in the city, General Robert E. Lee never set foot in New Orleans.”
Among other difficulties the city faced in taking the statues down was the inability to find a contractor that would take them down after the first contractor hired quit, reportedly over death threats. Days after the contractor pulled out, a $200 Lamborghini was found burned outside its business.
In another statement released at the time, Landrieu said “the removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance. Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile – and most importantly – choose a better future. We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context – and that’s where these statues belong.”
Landrieu, whose two-term mayoral reign ends May 7, published a book this month, “In the Shadow of Statues,” that tells the story of the monument removal.
The recipient of the prestigious award is chosen each year by a bi-partisan committee of political, business and academic leaders and is meant to identify heirs to the men profiled in Kennedy’s 1957 book, “Profiles in Courage.” Previous winners of the award include Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his contribution to overhauling campaign finance policy; former President George H.W. Bush, for agreeing to raise taxes in a successful bid to balance the federal budget; and, last year’s winner, former President Barack Obama for “elevating the standard of political courage to a new century.”
“Mayor Landrieu turned a difficult and diverse issue into an opportunity to reflect on our nation’s history and to recommit ourselves to our founding principles of equity and justice,” Jack Schlossberg, the foundation’s president and a grandson of Kennedy said in a statement. “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.”
In a Monday interview with the Washington Post, Landrieu expressed surprise over being selected for the award.
“You immediately feel not worthy of standing in the same company of those individuals who have been so courageous throughout their life,” he reportedly said. Landrieu told the Washington Post he was reminded of his father, former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu, and how his father had opposed a segregationist governor as a young state legislator.
“People take the word ‘courage’ the wrong way,” Landrieu said in the interview with the Washington Post. “I was afraid. There’s no question about it. I mean, there was a lot to be afraid of. But … when I really got afraid, I thought about Jon Lewis a lot on the foot of the Edmond Pettus Bridge when he knew he was going to get his. And he stood there anyway.”
Landrieu continued: “It is really a joyful experience to be in a position to receive this award and accept it on behalf of all the people that have worked with me over the years and have given me the help and support that I needed to do all of those hard things.”
The award ceremony will take place on May 20 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.