For nearly two years, New Orleans has been deeply divided over Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to take down four monuments to Confederate leaders and to a Reconstruction-era insurrection organized by aggrieved whites.
But when Mr. Landrieu gave a widely reported speech on Friday after the last of the four was taken down, he made it clear how much the divisions go beyond New Orleans and the symbols and statues honoring the Confederacy.
“We all take our own journey on race,” said Mr. Landrieu, the city’s first white mayor since his father, Moon Landrieu, more than three decades ago.
Mr. Landrieu left little mystery about his own journey and about how he saw the issue in New Orleans as far more than a local one about monuments and Confederate history.
“We need to change,’’ he said. “And we need to change now. No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society, this would have all been in vain.’’
His speech has resonated nationally to a remarkable degree, reprinted in publications like The Atlantic and hailed in The Chicago Tribune as “one of the great modern speeches on history and race in America.” A column in The New York Times hailed Mr. Landrieu for “putting some poetry back in public life” and for “demonstrating afresh that in language beautifully rendered, we find our humanity fully acknowledged.”