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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Political determination and changing racial attitudes coincide in New Orleans

Landrieu argues that in New Orleans in the 1970s there was a general absence of resentment regarding changing race relations. He explains how in the 1960s, he often voted against the status quo when it came to race issues, and as a result, he thought his career in politics would be short-lived. By the time he became mayor, however, he argues that racial attitudes had changed to the point that whites in New Orleans were accepting of African Americans and points to the public election of an African American as the Clerk of Court. Landrieu seems believe that his refusal to turn away from his personal convictions serendipitously coincided with changing racial attitudes leading up to his own mayoral election in 1970. This offers a unique perspective regarding popular attitudes towards race and politics in one southern city.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

don't think you find in this city the kind of racial prejudices that reflect a resentment; the resentment that I find out there against me in the white community, and I don't think it's sizeable, is that . . . that's all I think about. You know, that I have given the whole city to the blacks. In other words, it isn't a resentment that a black has gotten a job, or that I have advanced a black candidate, therefore I am for integration. I think that it is way beyond that point. Way way beyond that point. The day is gene when white politicians, before my time, Wouldn't be caught dead shaking a black man's hand in public. It was something that you couldn't do. I thank God that the day I started running that I would never do that. I just went over and would speak my mind about race since 1960 way before I think anybody else was even thinking about it, and I was just fortunate enough to get elected.
JACK BASS:
I think there was a time when you had a lonely vote ?
MAYOR MOON LANDRIEU:
Yeah. But, you know, we are way beyond that point.
JACK BASS:
What happened that time in the legislature exactly?
MAYOR MOON LANDRIEU:
Well, that has been highly dramatized too. Jimmy Davis, the federal courts had finally drawn the line and ordered the schools to desegregate and after all the appeals and after everything had run out, Funk said, "Okay, in December when these schools open in September, you'll integrate." The Governor called a special legislative session. We used our theories of inter-position, interposing himself, you know, and he took over the school system and the legislature took it over trying to avoid the federal court order. The legislature really divided itself, the vast majority being for the old southern way of life and segregation, while a few of us, not actively advocating integration. Because at that point, I think, it was unheard of, but of being for the law of the land, you know, abide by the decision. We didn't want to close the school system. The legislation got very bitter and often it ended up with Samand I being the only two guys left voting on one side, and it just beat everybody else into the ground.
JACK BASS:
How did you feel at that time?
MAYOR MOON LANDRIEU:
I never thought that I would get elected again. I was convinced that I wouldn't get elected, but I didn't care. It may sound strange to you, but I never thought . . . I thought being elected to the state legislature was the highest thing that I ever dreamed of doing in politics. I had no history in politics. I never assumed that I was going to be Mayor or U. S. Senator or President. I astounded myself by getting elected. Nobody in my family had ever been elected to anything. We had no political power, no money, no nothing. I really enjoyed it. I loved the job. I went through that first session and after I got elected, I naturally began to think that I had a bright political future ahead of me. I was only 29 years old and plunk, that session hit, and it was one of those crises of conscience that you have to have when a man has to decide what he is going to do with himself. I thought about it and it sounds a bit sticky to say it, but went to church and prayed over it, and just decided that I wasn't going to sell myself over it. If that is what I had to do to stay in public office, I just wasn't going to do it. I just did what I had to do and let the devil take the high note. I'd just go practice law or do something else. But I want to get back to this other point in the broad sense because I think it is very important to understand it. But the attitudes here have significantly changed. If that weren't so, we couldn't have elected an Ed Lombard, who just got elected Clerk of Court here, a young black guy. By him carrying all white precinets in many instances. It gets to be a question of fairness in the white's minds now. What is fair? A significant number of whites apparently thought it was fair to have one black elected official. I don't mean to say that all of them felt that one was all that there should be, but obviously there are a lot of them who feel that three is too much.