The 2018 Kenan Distinguished Lecture, “Making Straight What Has Been Crooked: The Ethics and Politics of Race in America,” held on March 2, was a conversation with Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu and Adriane Lentz-Smith, Associate Professor of History at Duke University. Introduction provided by Durham City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton.
This past May, a statue of Robert E. Lee that towered over New Orleans since 1884 was taken down along with three other monuments of prominent Confederates. Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, gave an impassioned address that explained the decision to relocate these monuments. More than that, the speech challenged the whole city to tell a better history, one that more honestly assessed the past as it makes it easier to “do the right thing” today.
As summer set on Durham, a Confederate monument was toppled, Twitter erupted with disputed claims of an impending Klan march, and a statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from Duke University’s Chapel. The city of Durham and Duke University have begun their own reckoning that looks backward and forward. A joint City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials will begin its work in the late spring. At the same time there is a clear recognition with Durham city government that the legacy of slavery is not only to be found in statuary, but also and more immediately in ongoing racial discrimination.
How do we tell our history for today’s Durham? What is ethical history? Whose voices are heard? What role does politics play?