An attorney for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which in 1922 erected the monument on behalf of “our great and truly noble Southern race,” went so far as to warn council members that they could face contempt charges and be personally financially responsible if they vote to relocate the monument.
Attorney Lane Roy’s justification for the threat: a 1980 permanent stipulated injunction agreed to by the City of Lafayette after the United Daughters sought a restraining order to prevent the city from moving the monument from its current location in front of the old City Hall to the new City Hall a half mile away.
Following the meeting, Council Co-Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux, who is black, told The Daily Advertiser’s Claire Taylor he was taken aback by Roy’s threat: “It’s a tactic other lawyers have used before the council to scare us from action,” Boudreaux said.
What’s wrong with that characterization? Nothing, aside from the fact that Gen. Alfred Mouton wasn’t an American veteran — he was fighting for the Confederate States of America, which had seceded from the United States of America. In fact, there was heated debate following the Civil War about whether to round up Confederates and charge them with treason, a notion that was at the very least impractical if not a match on a powder keg, and the federal government needed to apply a salve to ease the sting of Reconstruction for Southerners. Hanging Johnny Reb for treason was anything but.
Southern apologists claim Confederate veterans were made U.S. veterans by an act of Congress in the late 1950s, but that’s not true: the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 1957 was amended by Louisiana Sen. Russell Long to make the widows of Confederate veterans, then numbering about 1,000, eligible for pensions. That’s all. Confederates have never been declared U.S. veterans. Gen. Alfred Mouton fought for a break-away republic, one of the 13 states that nearly universally cited the preservation of slavery as their casus belli in taking up arms against the United States. How did we as Southerners get to a place where this is a point of pride?
Regardless, as this newspaper argued in our February cover story, “A Monumental Question,” who Alfred Mouton was is less important than why there’s a monument to him in Downtown Lafayette in the first place. Our argument is that the Mouton monument cannot be separated from the Lost Cause myth-making that swept the Deep South in the decades after the Civil War, typically through the fundraising efforts of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and that the context for his presence in a once-prominent public place at the height of the Jim Crow era is a tacit expression of white supremacy.
Can we infer anything else when we consider the words of the UDC representative — “In honoring General Mouton we are honoring ourselves, for we are today perpetuating the very best that has been achieved by our great and truly noble Southern race.” — at the ceremony dedicating the statue in April 1922? To whom was she speaking? Can anyone honestly imagine there were black folks at that ceremony, much less that they would have thought the United Daughter was speaking to them?
Lynchings and Confederate monument building were, arguably, the two dominant expressions of Deep South pride and prejudice in the decades after the Civil War, and when the one began to peter out so did the other. There was a spike in lynchings in the 1890s, but there were 1,844 lynchings in the United States between 1900 and 1930, after which the numbers significantly taper off. The vast majority of those lynched were black, and the average per year was 59. There were 57 lynchings in the U.S. in 1922, the year the General Mouton monument was erected; 51 of those 57 victims in 1922 were black. By the time the Great Depression struck, both lynchings and monument building were on the decline. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
The charge to relocate the General Mouton monument from the old City Hall to another location — the Lafayette Museum, which was the home of Mouton’s father, former Louisiana Gov. Alexandre Mouton, has been identified as a favorable spot — is being spearheaded by community activist and Cajundome Director Greg Davis, along with a group calling itself Why Alfred. It’s worth noting that a Why NOT Alfred group has also been formed in response and has many, many more “likes” for its Facebook group.
The council will not make a decision about the General Mouton monument at next week’s meeting. It might never make a decision. Consolidated government’s legal staff has been asked to research the 1980 injunction. Next week’s meeting — 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23 — could nonetheless be an opening salvo in Lafayette’s own civil war.
Read author Todd Mouton’s thoughtful comments on the topic, “Moutons Come in All Shapes, Sizes and Colors,” by clicking here.
To view the public comments from last night’s meeting online, click here; they begin at 28:45.