Mitch Landrieu was a child when he learned that race could be a problem in New Orleans. As the son of Mayor Moon Landrieu, who worked to integrate city government in the 1970s, he saw how deeply etched the lines of color could be. But it would take decades for the younger Landrieu to realize that the true impact of racism was deeper than he had previously imagined. In his new book, he describes one of the city’s monuments to a Confederate leader as being “there-but-not-there” in his youth; later, he would realize that many of his neighbors not only noticed the statue, but were haunted by it. In the intervening years, he became a state legislator, Lieutenant Governor and then, as the first white person to hold that job since his father had, the Mayor of New Orleans.
On May 19 of last year, Landrieu delivered a speech explaining his decision to remove four Confederate monuments from the city. His words quickly gained viral status. That topic provides the framework for the book, In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, out March 20. Part memoir and part manifesto, the book follows Landrieu’s political path as well as the evolution of his thoughts on race and history. Landrieu spoke to TIME about why the wounds of the Civil War and slavery remain unhealed, and what he thinks Americans need to do to address that problem.