Moon Landrieu’s Long Battle for Integration Could Be Lonely

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Moon Landrieu, who championed racial integration for decades as New Orleans mayor, state lawmaker, and US Cabinet member, died Monday. He was 92 and died at home in New Orleans, the New York Times reports. Landrieu was the patriarch of a political family: His daughter Mary was a three-term US senator from Louisiana, and his son Mitch also served as New Orleans mayor and now is the White House infrastructure coordinator. Asked in 1970 why he sought public office, Landrieu told WWL it’s an exciting life. “It can be frustrating, to be sure,” he said. “But that’s where the action is. It’s where a man can get his teeth into something and fight for it.”


He began arguing for full integration of New Orleans—including bars, swimming pools, and schools—as a law student in the early 1950s. When Norman Francis became the first Black student at the city’s Loyola Law School, three white students, including Landrieu, walked up to him before his first class. They told him, “We want you to know that if you ever need a friend, we’re going to be your friend,” Francis later said. When Landrieu was in the Louisiana House in the early 1960s, the legislature was busily approving measures to counter new federal civil rights laws. “They were passing segregation laws every other day, and the one hand that would go up and say no was his,” Francis said.


Landrieu had grown up in a diverse neighborhood, and he built political strength on the same connections he developed there. Walter Isaacson, who also was from that neighborhood and covered Landrieu as a journalist, said populism was split into two movements in that era. “George Wallace and others hijacked Southern populism and made it racist,” Isaacson said, “but there was another type of populist who truly believed you could have a working alliance of working-class Blacks and whites.” Landrieu’s leadership on civil rights issues was a politically shrewd as well as moral position, Isaacson said. His son similarly put together a multiracial coalition in his successful mayor campaign, per the Times.


As mayor, the often-combative Landrieu filled top jobs with Black appointees, including the highest one, chief administrative officer. Death threats followed. His legacy includes the New Orleans Superdome, a project beset by cost overruns and a contract scandal, per ABC News. He received criticism for knocking down historic landmarks, including the St. Charles Hotel, but kept a highway from being built through the French Quarter. After his tenure ended, he served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter. He became a state appellate judge in 1992 after deciding against running for president. Landrieu, who had nine children with his wife, Verna, later said, “I really wanted to get out of my kids’ way.” (Read more obituary stories.)

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